Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two disabled women compete in Olympics

Natalia Partyka of Poland, top, competes in women's team table tennis.
Natalie du Toit of South Africa will swim the new 10-kilometre open-water discipline.
The Gazette in Montreal, Canada, reports that double leg amputee Oscar Pistorius has received all the media coverage in his quest to compete using prosthetic blades in the Beijing Olympics, but reminds the world that two women who have missing limbs are competing in the Olympics.

Natalia Partyka of Poland, who was born with a right arm that ends at the elbow, competed in women's team table tennis August 13. Natalie du Toit of South Africa, whose left leg was amputated just below the knee after a 2001 motorcycle accident, will swim the new 10-kilometre open-water discipline next week.

Pistorius's case drew considerable attention because of the debate over whether his below-the-knee prosthetics truly gave him what an IAAF series of tests called "clear mechanical advantages" over able-bodied runners.

Partyka and du Toit have slipped in under the radar, primarily because they don't use prosthetics. But their lack of a lower right arm and lower left leg, respectively, put them at an immediate physical disadvantage, making just qualifying for the Games a remarkable achievement.

"Maybe I'm not so good with body balance, but I have strong legs," Partyka said.

For du Toit, not having a lower leg to help with propulsion is like being a kayaker with a single-bladed paddle. She says she doesn't consciously do anything to compensate for essentially not having a second fin.

"I don't even think of one leg, two legs," she said in an interview this year in South Africa. "When you're racing in an able-bodied competition, you're all equal.

"Swimming is my passion and something I love. Going out there in the water, it feels as if there's nothing wrong with me. It doesn't matter if you look different. You're still the same as everybody else because you have the same dream."

Du Toit and Partyka aren't the first athletes with a disability to compete in the Olympics. Visually impaired runner Marla Runyon of the United States made it to the final of the 1,500 metres at Sydney and American Jim Abbott, born without a right hand, was the winning pitcher in the gold-medal baseball final in 1988.

Partyka has little problem when the table-tennis ball is in play. To serve, she places the ball in the nook of her shortened arm, lets it fall, and then snaps at it with her paddle while turning sharply.

The 19-year-old reigning Paralympic champion only qualified for Beijing in the team event, not singles. But she showed that she can compete with the world's elite when she beat Li Jia Wei of Singapore, the No. 6-ranked player in the world, at the world championships in February.