Feb. 18, 2008, 12 a.m. (ET)

Hoping to earn a spot at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, 123 athletes from 28 different countries competed in the 2007 US Parlympics Table Tennis Championships, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place. It was the third consecutive year for the event, which this year held the distinction as the last opportunity to earn world ranking points to qualify for the upcoming Summer Paralympic Games.

Running from December 28-30, the 2007 US Paralympics Table Tennis Championships, were a part of the more than 40 different sports and activities that made up Mayor Daley’s Holiday Sports Festival, including the Killerspin Holiday Open and SPINvitational. Killerspin was gracious enough to provide all of the tables, floormats, and equipment used in the event. An estimated 85,000 people came out to McCormick Place for the festival, and Paralympic table tennis was an important new addition, fitting with the festival’s focus on the “Olympic and Paralympic experience.” Mayor Richard M. Daley highlighted this in his press conference on the second day of the event: “The new edition will help children become better acquainted with amateur sports, and many of them will become participants. Even if they don't become world class athletes, they will develop new interests that will last them a lifetime.” As the US-nominated bid city,
Chicago is hoping to boost its chances of hosting the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Amidst the busy holiday travel season, a diverse group of standing and wheelchair players hailing from nearly every continent gathered in the Windy City. Outside it was cold, even when the wind wasn’t blowing, but table tennis is an indoor sport. Ask the participants and they’ll tell you there’s nowhere they’d rather be than Chicago for the jam-packed 3-day event. “We just love coming here [to the US] for this tournament,” says Nadia Moffatt who left summer behind in Australia to compete in the event. Fortunately, an indoor pedestrian walkway connected the venue with the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place which handled many of the athlete meals and meeting space in addition to lodging. “Unlike many convention centers, no carpets to push on from the Hyatt to McCormick,” observed Jennifer Johnson, of the Organizing Committee for the event (and also a participant in the wheelchair competition). “It’s great for the wheelchairs. I’m cruising … and loving it.”

Johnson was joined by Linda Mastandrea, Vice President of Sports for the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee to kick-off the event. The pair of Paralympic Gold Medalists played a ceremonial first ball to open an exciting three days of competition, starting with Open Singles on Day 1, followed by the Class Singles events and Team events on Days 2 and 3. The large Korean delegation dominated many of the wheelchair events, especially in the team competition. USA’s Tahl Leibovitz won the Open Standing event and finished second in the class singles and team event, while Norman Bass managed to snag a bronze medal in the Class 7 Singles event. On the women’s side Noga Nir-Kistler and Pamela Fontaine won bronze in the Class 4-5 team event. Leibovitz and Nir-Kistler’s performances during the competition were both strong enough for each to qualify for the 2008 Paralympics.

The event was superbly officiated by Larry Kesler (Referee), Karol Ziduliak (Deputy Referee) and a team of 32 hard-working umpires. Then of course there were the many outstanding volunteers, coordinated by Ralphette Rhodes and transportation coordinated by Amanda Sowa, both of the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee. With excellent support from the United States Olympic Committee, Paralympic Division, Chicago Park District, Killerspin and Chicago 2016, it’s no wonder it was a successful event. “The comments we hear from the players are that every year you guys [the US Paralympics Table Tennis Championships] just keep getting better and better,” remarked Margita Homolova from Slovakia, Technical Delegate appointed by the International Paralympic Table Tennis Committee (IPTTC).

Of course the great help and support make it all possible. The Organizing Committee (consisting of David Del Vecchio, Jennifer Johnson, Ed Hogshead and Diana Hogshead) would like to thank the City of Chicago and the Mayor’s Office for all of its support; Larry Labiak and his staff at the Chicago Park District; Robert Blackwell and his staff at Killerspin, Joe Walsh and his staff at the USOC Paralympic Division, Linda Mastandrea, Ralphette Rhodes, Amanda Sowa of Chicago 2016, Jose Arauz at the Hyatt Regency, El Deseo Foundation, Joseph M. Dowling CPA, and the American Wheelchair Table Tennis Association (AWTTA).