All eyes were on table tennis at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games as Natalia Partyka won her fourth consecutive singles gold, Laurens Devos became the youngest male champion and Sandra Paovic took the Paralympic title on her debut.
These three achievements make it to No. 32 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments.
Poland’s Partyka won her fourth successive Paralympic singles gold in Rio, following a 3-0 (11-8, 18-16, 11-5) victory over China’s Yang Qian in the women’s class 10 singles final match.
“A fourth win, I am so happy!” said Partyka. “Playing Yang Qian, it has been close in the past. Four years ago in London it was five games, at the World Championships two years ago in Beijing it was five games again and she had one match point.
“This time I was prepared, I was ready and I played the best I have played in the whole tournament.”
The 27-year-old, who competed at both the Olympics and Paralympics at Beijing, London and Rio, added a second gold medal to her Rio 2016 haul in the women’s team classes 6-10, alongside Katarzyna Marszal and Karolina Pek.
Another player who stood out was Belgium’s 16-year-old Laurens Devos, who became the youngest male table tennis Paralympic champion in history, in the men’s class 9 singles event, without conceding a single game in the six matches throughout the tournament.
This was his country’s first Paralympic table tennis title since Athens 2004.
“This is a surprise,” said Devos after defeating the Netherlands’ Gerben Last 3-0 (11-8, 11-7, 11-4) in the gold-medal match. “My goal was a medal, but it is a gold medal, so that is better than just a medal. I did not expect to win again 3-0, but yeah, I did it.
“This past night I did not sleep so well because I thought, ‘Ah, I have a semi-final, then maybe a final in one day, so I have to play good’. But I won anyway. I think I cannot play better than this, I played good.”
The Belgian made his international debut in 2014 and, the following year, he won the 2015 European Championships in the men’s singles class 9 in Vejle, Denmark. Now he will go for the world title, the last major one to claim.
Croatia’s Paovic defied all odds when she picked up a paddle again in 2013. From 1999-2008, Paovic was a member of the Croatian women’s table tennis team over eight World Championships and represented Croatia at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Following a life-threatening car accident while in France for a match, Paovic was left with limited use of her legs due to a severe cervical spinal injury. Only a year after her comeback as a Para athlete, she became world champion to enter as No. 15 on the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2014.
After that, Paovic set her sights on gold at Rio 2016, and she not only achieved her goal but surpassed all expectations as she sailed through her first Paralympic Games undefeated in the women's singles class 6.
“I am not a calm player who can look calm and play fantastically, I need to push myself to concentrate,” said world No.1 Paovic, who defeated Germany's Stephanie Grebe 3-0 (11-2, 11-7, 11-4) in the final.
“I do not move really, they all move much better than me and this is an advantage for them, so I have to push myself to be somehow movable. This is not easy as I am the only one who has a spinal cord injury.
“To have a spinal cord injury like me and to play standing table tennis is really difficult but if I was not as crazy as I am, I do not think I could do that.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.