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Natalia Partyka is part of a select group on the international sports scene. The 24-year-old Polish woman, who was born without her right hand and part of the forearm, is one of 10 athletes in the world to have competed in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Now, as she is preparing for the Rio 2016 Games, the three-time Paralympic table tennis champion is dreaming of winning her first Olympic medal.
“I always dreamed of competing in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and this desire was fulfilled in London (2012 Games), when I participated in both the Olympic singles and team events,” Partyka told rio2016.com. “It was a great opportunity and I learned a lot there. I want to relive this experience in Rio 2016 and I am working hard in order to do so. My greatest dream is to win medals in both competitions.”
Partyka started playing table tennis aged seven. The first of many milestones in her career came when she was 11: she became the youngest athlete to participate in the Paralympic Games, at Sydney 2000. Four years later, she won her first Paralympic gold medal, in the class 10 singles in Athens, where she also won team silver.
At the Beijing 2008 Games, she became a two-time Paralympic champion in singles and claimed silver in the team event again, but she was also part of the Polish Olympic team at those Games. In London in 2012, she won her third consecutive Paralympic singles title, winning bronze in the team event, while participating in Olympic singles and team events too.
If she achieves her goal, Natalia will repeat the feat of Hungarian Pál Szekeres, Olympic bronze medallist in fencing and three-time Paralympic champion in wheelchair fencing after he suffered a car accident.
Natalia’s achievements are an inspiration for Brazilian Paralympic table tennis revelation, Bruna Alexandre. The 18-year-old would like to repeat Natalia’s feat at the Rio 2016 Games. Having had part of her right arm amputated after a medical error aged three months, Alexandre is a member of Brazil’s Olympic and Paralympic table tennis teams and is fourth in the Paralympic world rankings in class 10.
“Natalia’s story and everything she does are an inspiration for me,” said Alexandre, who reached the quarter-finals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, aged 17. “I’m working hard to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio, as she did in London and Beijing. She is a very intelligent and agile player and serves very well. She said in an interview that I will become world champion in a few years, and this comment made me very happy and confident that I am on the right track.”
Partyka knows, like few others, the possibilities and benefits that table tennis offers. And she hopes the sport will become more popular in Brazil after the Rio 2016 Games.
“Table tennis is a sport for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have disabilities or not, whether you’re tall or short. Anyone can play and be good at it. I hope that all the people who follow table tennis in the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games enjoy the matches and maybe feel motivated to practise the sport.”
Partyka, who is a ‘Dream Building Ambassador’ for the International Table Tennis Federation, has high expectations for the Rio 2016 Games.
“I’ve never been to Brazil, but I only hear good things about Rio and I look forward to getting to know the city. I'm sure that everything will be very well done and that the athletes will have the best venues as well as the perfect atmosphere to reach their goals.”