Polish sensation Natalia Partyka was all grace as she took only 20 minutes to grab the title in the women's table tennis individual class 10 event last night.
Natalia Partyka of Poland in action against China's Fan Lei during the table tennis final match at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing on September 10, 2008. [Agencies]
The 19-year-old defending champion was the first athlete with a disability to compete in the sport at the Beijing Olympics.
In the run-up to the final at the packed Peking University Gymnasium, she swept aside all opponents without losing.
In the gold-medal clash against home favorite Fan Lei, she came back from a 5-8 deficit to win the first set 11-8. She then played more aggressively to take the next two sets 11-4 and 11-9.
"It was a difficult match for me even though the scoreline suggests it was easy," Partyka said. "It was a close game and I had to concentrate hard. So I am very happy to win the title again.
"Four years ago in Athens, it was quite easy to win the gold medal. But we have better players in Beijing and the competition is getting tougher."
The Chinese silver medalist was downcast because she could not wrest the title on home soil.
"I didn't play very well today. I really wanted to win the gold and I think I have the ability," the 25-year-old said.
"It could have been another story if I had taken the first set when leading 8-5."
The Paralympic table tennis tournament includes both team and individual events, with players allotted to classes according to their disabilities: the lower the number, the more severe the disability; Classes 1 to 5 are for wheelchair players, while class 6 to 10 are for standing players.
Partyka was born with her right arm ending at the elbow; and began to learn table tennis from her sister at seven.
Thanks to her dedication to the sport and the hard training, Partyka competed in her first Paralympic Games at Sydney 2000 after winning her first table tennis medal at 10 in the 1999 World Championships for the disabled.
After taking home gold from Athens in 2004, she began to compete in tournaments for both able-bodied and disabled people -- and won a title in the European Championships for Cadets and several medals at the ITTF European Junior Championship in the team events.
Earlier this year, at the World Championships in Guangzhou, she defeated Li Jiawei of Singapore, ranked sixth in the world. At the Beijing Olympics, she lost to Tie Yana of Hong Kong in the team events, but only after forcing the World No 10 into a five-set thriller.
"Taking part in the Olympics is a dream come true and I gained good experience," she told The Paralympian.
"Both the Olympics and the Paralympics are important to me. I really have great motivation to play at the Paralympics and I want to play as well as I can."
The determined high school student has a bigger dream.
"I want to become one of the top players in the world. I know it is very difficult because there are a lot of good players. I have to practise a lot. I believe if I work hard, my dream will come true," she said.
Next month, she will start her physical education course in a Polish university and also prepare for the European Championships in Russia.
And she is thinking of coming to China to train with the best players in the world. Two years ago, she trained in Chengdu for a month.
"I will discuss it with my coach. I can learn a lot from Chinese players such as Guo Yue, also a left-hander.
"China is a lucky country for me. Every time I come here, I play very well. So I'd like to come here more often."
In the earlier four women's wheelchair individual finals, the hosts did not let any of the titles slip from their hands.
Liu Jing beat Pamela Pezzutto of Italy 3-1 in the class 1-2, Li Qian blanked Alena Kanova of Slovakia in class 3, Zhou Ying upset Borislava Peric of Serbia 3-0 in class 4 and Ren Guixiang won the all-China final against Gu Gai in class 5.