Quick question: Who is the most succesful olympic athlete in table tennis? Jan-Ove Waldner? The answer might surprise you..
.. ok so it is Natalia Partyka from Poland. She recently won the gold medal at the Paralympic games in Rio. That is a great feat in and of itself, but it is not the whole story. Natalia also won Gold at the Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London – making this her fourth consecutive gold medal in 4 Paralympic games. No table tennis player ever has achieved her success.
In September 2016, few days after the Paralympics closing ceremony, we have had the pleasure to congratulate Natalia on her historic success. Natalia managed to find time just after one interview and before another, two out of many she has during these weeks. We meet in Gasport, the home of Butterfly in Poland, in the same building where Natalia started her first training at the age of 7.
First of all congratulations on your success! Did you expect to win two medals?
Thank you! I was flying to Rio for a gold in singles, but I was wondering if we can manage to win the team tournament. After defeat in the doubles (with Karolina Pęk – we are both left handed and sometimes it is confusing at the table), which starts the team games during Paralympics, we started into the single games. I won my duel and so Karolina’s game was to decide. She played incredibly well and won 3:1 and we overcame the “Chinese wall”.
What is the difference for you between Olympic and Paralympic Games?
I feel much bigger pressure during the Paralympics. I know my status and I realise what the expectations are. Any other result than first place is considered a failure. Since 2008, I have not lost a game.
At both tournaments people fight for medals and results, but the ambience is different. Olympic Games are a fully professional sport event with big sponsors and big money involved. Meanwhile the Paralympics are of a much smaller scale. There are less players, we play in groups deriving from the degree of disability, regulations are different, but most important is that players who are there are already winners – being at Paralympics means that they have already won their life, defeated their disability. Each person has an incredible story to tell. You can feel a lot of kindness and friendliness. Winning a medal is important during both Games, but the emotions involved are different.
You started to take part in Paralympics at the age of 11. What were your favourite Olympic Games?
As a table tennis player I enjoyed IO in Bejing the most. You can feel that this is the real home of table tennis, the place where our sport is very important. On the other hand in London there was a great atmosphere during both Games. I have never seen such a big and supporting audience during Paralympics as in the british capital. There, I felt that our effort is really appreciated and disabled sportsmen are considered equally important.
So how does your disability affect your life?
[ Natalia has a very positive attitude towards her disability. She does not have any “martyr” philosophy. It seems that she simply came to terms with facts. ]
I was just born like that. With everything I was learning to do, I was learning to take my situation into account. If I had lost my hand in an accident, that I suppose would have been much harder for me. Now, I do not have any problem with it. I found my way of life. I am in sport since I was 7 years old, watching the disabled players as well, so I was just following their example as they were training without being treated in a different way. In the same way I was treated at home, without any excuses. It gave me independence and a firm belief in my strength.
Have you always felt so positive? Have there been any darker moments?
Yes, 2-3 years ago I had a difficult time. I was stricken with a series of small injuries, none of them was a serious problem, but altogether they took away the pleasure of play and comfort of training. It was accompanied by some defeats that should not have happened. I could not find the effective treatment for my physical state and mentally I was feeling exhausted. After two months I found specialists in Poznan, who had a different approach to what was bothering me. They offered me complex treatment including the right therapies and physical exercises I included to my training routine. In terms of specialised table tennis practice, I still rely on the guidance of my coach Michal Dziubanski. After all I realised that I cannot live without table tennis and I regained the joy of play.
Is table tennis so important to you?
Yes, it still remains my passion, I cannot live without that adrenaline, sports emotions, challenges, but I also know that this is my job. I know my obligations, I know that there are people who rely on me and trust me like my team and my sponsors. I have this luck that since I started I have been always supported by the best equipment supplier – Butterfly.
So what equipment do you use?
Right now I have chosen Innerforce Layer ALC and Tenergy 05. These rubbers are my favourites, because I was looking for the fast and hard rubber that can generate high spin. In that terms Tenergy 05 is unsurpassable and I use them since they were launch on the market. Regarding blade I need the fast one with even and consistent bounce on the whole surface and good active control. Since that I was searching among the models with Zylon and Arylate, preferably with Innerfiber technology and in the end I decided to select the Innerforce Layer ALC. This is a perfect match with Tenergy 05, which supports my style of play – offensive on both backhand and forehand with high rotation.
What make you think about changing the equipment?
My last racket was played down to the core 🙂 Apparently, I hit the table with the blade so often that part of it fell off and my blade lost its shape. It was a good excuse to try out new technologies though.
During this season I will play in a Czech club which takes part in Champions League, but the biggest goal I aim at now is Tokyo – as always regarding Olympics and Paralympics. However, when I think about future I think about coming back to Gdansk, to my family and friends, to the hall I started and beautiful beach which is my best place to relax.
During our interview, we also found some time to ask the famous “10 Questions”:
How would you describe your character?
I am rather joyful and calm.
Which country you visited did you like the most?
I like European countries, but when I am in China I really feel that this is the home of table tennis.
What is your unique strength?
I rely on my perserverance, hard work and I fully believe that everything is up to me.
What has been your best match so far?
The game against Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN) during the World Tour in Warsaw last year. I won, even though she was much higher in the World Ranking than I was.
What has been your worst match so far?
I cannot think of such a game.
I have a lot of tennis table friends, but my best friend is my doubles partner Kasia Grzybowska.
You have been with Butterfly for a long time. What is your opinion about the cooperation?
The best possible. I think that every player would like to be sponsored by Butterfly. This is the best supplier of table tennis equipment and I am happy to play with their blade and rubbers.
Name some of your hobbies, what do you do in your spare time?
Everytime I am in Gdańsk I go to the beach, which is a great place to relax at each season of the year.
What is your next big goal?
Tokio, aiming at both Olimpic and Paralimpic Games. I plan to make progress as a player. Winning a medal is a final goal, but victories with players regarded better than me are small steps to achieve this.
What does table tennis mean to you?
Everything. This is my life.