Meet Ibrahim Hamadtou, the Paralympian who plays table tennis with his mouth and foot

Hamadtou, a two-time Paralympian from Egypt, has become a global sensation because of his unique playing style. But do you know his story and what his next goals are? 05 May 2023
A male Para table tennis player holds a racquet with his mouth and lifts the ball with his right foot.
Hamadtou made his Paralympic debut at Rio 2016.
ⒸThomas Lovelock/OIS/IOC
By Ayano Shimizu | The IPC

Egypt’s Ibrahim Hamadtou started Para table tennis to prove to his friend that nothing is impossible. A double arm amputee, he plays with the table tennis racquet in his mouth and serves the ball using his right foot.

Whenever Hamadtou plays at international tournaments, a crowd gathers and photographs are taken. While the athlete has competed at the top level for years, he says that his unique playing style does not come easy. 

Now, with less than 500 days left until Paris 2024,  Hamadtou is aiming to go to his third Paralympics and take the spotlight again.

Hamadtou competed in two events at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. @Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Challenge accepted

The Egyptian athlete lost his arms as a result of a train accident when he was 10 years old. He still remembers the day when he first started Para table tennis nearly four decades ago.

After he watched a table tennis match between his friends, one of them ridiculed Hamadtou, saying that he would not be able to play.

“That’s why I challenged myself and tried to play a number of times until I succeeded,” the athlete recalled. 

But it was easier said than done.

After Hamadtou took up the sport in 1986, it took him three years to be able to play with the racquet in his mouth. He practiced by himself every day by placing a table tennis table in front of a wall.

“I trained twice a day early in the morning and late at night,” he said. “I chose these times because I live in a village so I was very shy to be mocked by people if they see me training this way, and I was only 13 years old.”

Smashing it to the Paralympics

Fast forward 30 years, Hamadtou competed in his first Paralympic Games at Rio 2016 and was “dazzled” to be part of the world’s third largest sporting event. 

Wearing a black suit and red tie, he took part in the parade of athletes during the Opening Ceremony as part of Egypt’s 45-member delegation. At Riocentro, he played two group stage matches in the men’s singles class 6, capturing the hearts of Paralympic fans around the world.

Hamadtou said he was “dazzled” to be part of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. @Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

He returned to the Paralympic stage five years later at Tokyo 2020, this time, focusing more on his result and performing at his best. In addition to playing in the singles tournament, Hamadtou reached the quarterfinals in the men’s team classes 6-7 tournament. 

While advancing to the knockout stage is an achievement Hamadtou  celebrates, he also recalls the attention he received from global media in the Japanese capital.

“I am very happy with this,” he said. “I started realising this after the Rio Paralympics and it increased in Tokyo 2020 when I found my table surrounded by journalists and photographers from all over the world.”

Unique challenges

While Hamadtou’s one-of-a-kind playing style has taken him to great heights, it has also taken a toll on his body. 

Before the Tokyo 2020 Games, he underwent numerous scans of his teeth and had them treated with the support of different organisations, including the Egyptian Paralympic Committee and the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“It’s not easy at all,” Hamadtou said of his style. “It’s challenging especially that my playing technique put so much pressure on my back, my legs and my teeth.

“I have tried to use a teeth guard a number of times, but I was not able to hold the racquet properly with the teeth guard, so I left it aside.”

Nothing is impossible

Nearly two years since Tokyo 2020, Hamadtou now has his sights set on qualifying for the next Paralympic Games in 2024. He hopes to book his ticket to the French capital by delivering results at the ITTF African Para Championships, which will take place in Egypt in September 2023.

In 2019 he created a training room, which has a table tennis table and a robot that sends the ball automatically. To develop his technique, Hamadtou is especially working on serving with his foot, mixing both long and short serves.

“Participating in the Paralympic Games has affected me a lot and I am trying to improve my technique,” he said. “My technique is always an obstacle to my opponents because they don’t expect my next shot.

“Playing Para table tennis has made me a very committed person.”

Hamadtou aims to compete at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, which open in less than 500 days. @Bob Martin/OIS

While Hamadtou is targeting the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, which take place in less than 500 days, he also has ambitions outside of sports.  He is envisioning a career in a new field – politics.

He wants to represent people with disabilities in Egypt and discuss their needs and rights. And as Hamadtou seeks to create change, he sees his experience in Para sports becoming a motivation for many people.

He hopes to continue that by proving that there is nothing he cannot do.

“I think I am a role model as people see how I challenge myself and how I have succeeded so they know that there is nothing called impossible,” he said.