Playing table tennis with only his mouth, first-time Paralympian Ibrahim Hamadtou has been called a legend on social media.
RIO DE JANEIRO – Egypt’s Ibrahim Hamadtou has become an inspiration to the world, after competing in Rio paralympian games as the first armless table tennis player.
“I’m just happy that I could come from Egypt to be here at the Paralympics and to play against a champion,” Hamadtou told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, September 14.
“I can’t express what my heart is feeling: I’m too happy.”
Hamadtou, who lost both arms above the elbow in a childhood train accident, holds the racket between his teeth.
Although he lost in his Paralympic debut, falling to the highly rated British world number four, David Wetherill, and then to Germany’s Thomas Rau, the wiry 43-year-old said he was elated.
Hamadtou, from the port city of Damietta, was 10 when he was injured.
“After the accident, he stayed shut up at home for three years. He wouldn’t go out,” said his coach of the last 20 years, Hossameldin Elshoubry.
A family friend tried to put the depressed teen back on track through sport, making football as his first choice.
“But football didn’t work,” Hamadtou said.
His coach explained: “It was too dangerous. You see, with no arms, if you fall you have no way to protect yourself.”
Table tennis came next, after the then young Hamadtou tried to grip the small paddle under the stump of his right arm.
“That didn’t work either,” he said, smiling.
Finally he attempted to clasp the racket handle in his mouth, much like someone might hold a flashlight when their hands are busy.
He also trained his legs to be able to hit the ball in the serve.
“It took me three years to learn,” Hamadtou said.
“After that his life changed. You know, he went to school again after that,” coach Elshoubry said proudly.
His exploits have made him something of an Internet sensation, starring in a YouTube hit called “Impossible is Nothing” — at youtu.be/aDdh2439hnU — that has been viewed more than 2.3 million times.
Channel 4 also shared a video about the player, which was viewed more than 1.6 million times.
“He’s a legend in table tennis,” Wetheril, who plays table tennis while holding a crutch to support his left side, said.
Being famous in the Paralympic world, the British star said he feels himself in the Egyptian’s shadow.
“I was feeling the pressure, a bit jittery. (Then) you see people like Ibrahim and you can’t possibly feel nervous: he puts things in perspective — the things he can do,” he said.
Hamadtou’s only problem in sporting terms is that he is too unique, finding it too difficult to find a fair matchup at Paralympic level.
“He’s the only one that uses his mouth,” his coach said. “There’s no one else. If there were five, six, seven players using their mouths, we’d make a new class.”
Hamadtou is training two armless boys in Egypt, aged 10 and 12, Elshoubry said.
“He wants to give those two boys the skills that no one could give him when he was small.”