Excel witnesses the power of the Paralympics

By Rob Virtue on September 3, 2012 4:25 PM |

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Frenchman Thomas Bouvais lies on the floor of the Excel Centre shaking and in tears.

But the blonde and bespectacled 21-year-old, who stands at around four and a half feet tall, not much higher than the net on the table tennis table, has won rather than lost in his final class nine qualifying match of the Paralympics.

Meanwhile, relative giant from Ukraine, Vadym Kubov, who had seen a 2-0 lead disappear to lose 3-2 to Bouvais, ambled over to his rival and bends down to affectionately congratulate him.

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Bouvais continues the long walk away from table two at the Excel Centre to prepare for his quarter-final (which he was to lose) leaving the crowd last Friday afternoon in North Arena 1, including scores of very passionate French fans, enthralled.

Because while the Olympics is a spectacle of the world's best athletes doing battle, the Paralympics is a slightly different affair.

The quality is still excellent, especially on the table tennis table exemplified by Bouvais' trademark right-hand top-spin, but not only have the competitors worked tirelessly to be the best within there various ranges of ability, but each have had to overcome the all too often held view that in some way they are inferior to the average man and that for them such successes on a global stage are out of reach.

But watching the table tennis last Friday, the average man or woman would not have got close to most of Bouvais - or Kubov's - shots.

And the average man doesn't make incredible sacrifices to follow their dreams, which is what the hundreds of performers at the Paralympics are currently doing.

Not long after Bouvais' David and Goliath-esque victory, Britain David Wetherill, who plays with the aid of a crutch, brought the arena's fans to their feet.

2-1 down in the best of five clash with his German opponent Tomasz Kusiak, and with the match drifting out of reach at a crucial point, 22-year-old Wetherill was a good five feet to the left of the ball as it was placed past him, curling away.

In that moment, rather than concede defeat and without giving thought to his reduced mobility or the crutch in his left hand, he launched himself through the air.

As he may have gathered from the gasps of disbelief from the crowd as he lay in a crumpled heap on the blue of the Excel floor, he'd somehow not only managed to connect with the ball while in dive-mode but also skillfully played an unstoppable cross-table winning shot that had to be seen to be believed.

After dusting himself down, Wetherill, a medal hope before the tournament, lost in the qualifier but will be remembered for that fearless effort, afterwards tweeting: "At least I might get a few YouTube hits, Superman diving forehand winner? I practice that I'll have you know."

More Paralympians followed, including German Stephanie Grebe, who plays despite having no hands and just one leg.

With the bat strapped to her right arm she fired through to a comprehensive 3-0 victory, with movement so smooth within a couple of points you find yourself forgetting she has a disability.

And that's the message. When these stars are at the table there is no disability, just excellent sportspeople entertaining the crowds while chasing their dreams of gold.

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