26 Aug 2021

Compared to the Olympic Games, athletes competing at the Paralympic Games receive relatively limited attention as a media spectacle (Howe 2008). It tells a different story than just pure physical excellence. The Paralympic Games are the epic celebration of life, passion and the struggles that come with it.

This is the first of a two-part article, focusing on Para table tennis players present at Tokyo 2020.

by Jia Li, ITTF Foundation Communication Coordinator

Catia da Silva Oliveira

What happens when the path you choose is no longer accessible? The promising footballer turned Para table tennis player Catia da Silva Oliveira might have an answer.

At the age of 14, Oliveira was a rising young football star in Brazil. By October 2007, Oliveira had been called up to the Brazil women’s national under-17 football team. Unfortunately, on the very same day, she was involved in a car accident that left her with paraplegia. Not giving up on sport, Oliveira picked up a table tennis racket in 2013 and has since won a place on Brazil’s national team, just in time for the 2015 Parapan American Games. In October 2018 she became a silver medallist at the World Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia.

Catia da Silva Oliveira
Feng Panfeng

China’s Feng Panfeng contracted polio when he was seven months old and does not really know life without a wheelchair. His life changed dramatically in March 2000 when two Paralympic athletes visited his school, and he was introduced to table tennis. The school Feng went to at the time was poorly equipped but in the eye of Feng, it was a minor obstacle compared to what he had to go through in life.

“Every athlete wants to win gold in a competition. The best way (to get to number one) is a combination of technical innovation in training and experience in competitions.”

Feng’s skill and determination soon caught the attention of a coach. Starting his Paralympic Games journey as a gold medallist at Beijing 2008, he is looking to win his sixth this year in Tokyo.

Feng Panfeng
Melissa Tapper

The first Australian athlete to qualify for both the Summer Olympics and Summer Paralympics in 2016, Melissa Tapper is no stranger to making history.

On track for a successful career in able-bodied sport, Tapper suffers from a brachial plexus injury resulting in Erb’s palsy. Her sports career took a turn when Paralympics Australia suggested she transition to Para table tennis. Tapper reached the bronze medal match on her debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games which, at the time, was Australia’s best performance in Para table tennis at the event in 28 years.

Following the games, she became the first Australian Paralympic table tennis player to qualify for an able-bodied national team when she was selected to represent Australia at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

Melissa Tapper

Their stories are more than the forehand flicks or the backhand topspins, they are about embracing the unexpected and being okay with the outcome. After all, sport is the simulation of life. We do not always have control over everything, but we try our best anyway.

It is not their opponents they fight; it is the obstacles life has thrown their way.

Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on our programmes and projects.

General News ITTF Foundation Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games