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Seven-time Paralympician to enjoy his last int'l tournament
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09:07, September 08, 2008

A seven-time Paralympic table tennis player Rainer Schmidt lost his first match 3-1 to his British opponent Dave Wetherill here on Sunday, but still, he had a chance to advance to next round.

The table tennis game in Paralympics is separated into 10 classes depending on players' disabilities. The smaller the number is, the more severe their disabilities are. Classes 6 to 10 are for standing competitors while classes 1 to 5 are for players seated on wheelchairs.

Schmidt belongs to the Class 6, the most severe class in the standing groups. He literally had only one normal limb - his left leg. He stands with the support of his artificial right leg, and has his racket tied on his left upper arm.

Schmidt suffers from a rare disease when he was born. "I was born like this. There are only two people out of 1 million births have the same disease," he said.

But his disability never stops him from being a great athlete. Since the New York Paralympics in 1984, Schmidt had participated in all the 6 Paralympics, and had won 8 medals in hand - 4 gold and 4 silver. In the last Athens Paralympics, he won a gold in the team event and a silver in his class 6 individual games.

"The biggest event for me was probably the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992, because there were 12,000 spectators, and only me and my opponent on the stage. It was probably the biggest moment in Paralympics movement," he said.

Schmidt began playing table tennis 31 years ago, when he was only 12-year-old. It was all an accident how he started, after his parents brought him to a small village in Austria for a vacation.

"The only possibility (in the village) was table tennis, so I started playing. I tried to hold my racket with my arm but it didn't work, and someone saw me and said 'maybe I can fix the racket to your arm and you can play table tennis.' And he did it. That was my first experience. Three months later I go to my first club and I never stop," he said.

Watching Schimidt playing would definitely be impressed by his quick movements and unique services. He always stabilizes the ball with his racket, tosses it into the air, and then slides it.

"I would say 25 percent of my train is services, but when I am nervous, service is exactly the problem. Normally my services are much better, but today my service is too short, so he could take every ball. It needs 10 centimeters to the edge," he said.

"When I was young I did my services always with my forehand, but I changed to my backhand when I get older, because there is side spin and most ball would return to my forehand which is my best side," he added.Winning a gold medal or not is no longer important for Schimidt. Table tennis is so much more than a sport to him.

"For me, I want to make good sports here. If I can do it, that is nice."I am glad that I found something I could be really good at. I improved step by step and this made me feel proud and say I am not 'disabled' by 'abled.' This is changing my view," he said.

Apart from a sportsman, a Paralympic gold medalist, Schimidt is a full-time theologist as well as a writer. "I work full-time in the institution in our local church, and I just published my second book in this August."

Yet after the Beijing Paralympics, Schimidt is going to retire. "This is definitely my last international event. For the past one and half years it is really hard. I don't have free time to do any other things. So I need to throw out something.

"I want a successful end and it may not be a successful end. It is a perfect reason to stop a career. If you don't get a medal in the seventh Paralympics, don't go to the eighth," he said with relaxed smile on his face.

Schimidt is to take on Carlo Franco Michell from Brazil in his next match on Monday, who also lost the first match 3-1 on Sunday. Only the top player in four groups will advance to the semifinals.

Source: Xinhua

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