Tahl Leibovitz first picked up a table tennis paddle at the South Queens Boys and Girls Club nearly 25 years ago.
Since then the 41-year-old Ozone Park resident has built a reputation as one of the most dominant athletes in the sport. Now, he is preparing for his fifth Paralympic Games, heading to Rio next month.
Leibowitz is the only Queens resident to qualify for the Games.
“I have been playing table tennis in New York City for more than 20 years,” he said. “New York City is a very special place for me. I am very excited to qualify for Rio 2016.”
Leibovitz moved to the United States from Haifa, Israel with his family when he was 3 years old. He battles osteochondroma, a condition characterized by noncancerous but often painful bone tumors, but has refused to let his condition define him. Instead, Leibovitz has focused much of his energy on dominating the international table tennis circuit over the last two and a half decades.
He calls his career “an amazing experience and a great journey,” one that has sent him around the world to face off against some of the best competition the sport has to offer.
He’s only seemed to get better with age, graduating from NYU’s Silver School of Social Work in 2015 after winning two gold medals in Collegiate Doubles.
Leibovitz then went to Spain for the PTT Spanish Open 2015, winning a bronze medal in Class 9 Singles and a gold medal in the Class 9-10 Team event. (In the sport, Classes 9 and 10 are for athletes with relatively mild physical impairments.) He went on to compete in the Romania International Table Tennis Open 2015, taking home a gold medal in Class 9 Singles and a silver in the Class 9-10 Team event.
Leibovitz qualified for the Rio Games by winning a gold medal in Class 9 men’s singles table tennis at the Para Pan American Games 2015 in Toronto.
While he’s spent a good chunk of time preparing for Rio and training over the last few weeks, Leibovitz also found a few moments to watch the Olympics as they aired.
He—naturally—was partial to watching table tennis and may have even taken a few moves from the TV broadcast to his own game.
“I have been watching the games,” Leibovitz said, “and [they are] helping me prepare.”
Leibovitz will head to Rio later this month and the Paralympic Games will run Sept. 7-18. It may be his fifth Games, but Leibovitz—who was recently inducted into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame—is as excited as ever for this next challenge. Despite pre-Games rumors that athletes were facing funding issues, Leibovitz has yet to encounter any trouble. Right now, his only focus is representing his country and, most importantly, adding to his already impressive medal collection.
“I have no problem as of yet with sponsorship,” he said. “I get a monthly stipend from both USOC and USATT. All of my costs to every tournament are covered.”
©2016 Community News Group
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