General overview of Para table tennis at the Parapan American Games on Aug. 22, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
As five-time Paralympian Tahl Leibovitz earned his eighth Parapan American title in men’s singles and punched his ticket to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, one teammate in particular was learning a lot by watching from the sidelines.
Randall Medcalf of Houston, Texas is a member of the U.S. men’s table tennis team competing at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019.
“This is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to play with Tahl. He’s very vocal and he's constantly talking, so you get a good feel for what he's thinking,” Medcalf said. “He's a very intelligent player and you can see that in his game, so I try to incorporate some of his traits into what I'm doing. The reason why I've been able to last longer during points is that I can see the way he plays so I want to try and do that a bit more.”
Medcalf made the team’s roster after participating in tryouts last December. He now plays in the men’s team class event with Leibovitz and Jerry Vazquez, in which teams consist of three players each and play one doubles match and two singles matches against another country.
“I started playing table tennis when I was about 18,” Medcalf said. “My cousin had a table tennis table in his basement and introduced me to the sport, and I got hooked on it.”
Despite playing in many table tennis tournaments back in the United States, this is Medcalf’s first time competing for Team USA on an international level.
“It’s very different compared to playing back in the States; there’s a lot of pageantry involved, a lot of lights,” Medcalf said. “But it's been a lot of fun, I've been able to meet a lot of new players from a lot of countries. Table tennis brings all of us together and provides a lot of camaraderie, so that part of the Games has been really nice.”
The 10 men on the American team have high expectations for themselves in Peru. Medcalf said their focus from the beginning has been to reach the top of the podium and earn gold.
“We're taking an approach that the gold medal is our goal and we don't want to settle for less,” Medcalf said. “I think the Brazilians are going to be our toughest opponent, but hopefully we're able to do it.”
But in terms of his personal goals, Medcalf is soaking up all of the competition and valuable exposure to the players showcasing their skills in the Villa Deportiva Nacional.
“My own goal for myself was to come out here to see how my game compared to the international competition. I know what I need to work on now, so now I’ll be going back to the United States and trying to put a plan together to improve,” Medcalf said. “I need to be better defensively because when these guys attack, it’s really hard to defend. They're very offensive players and their swing is extremely powerful. In order to handle that, you have to have a good attack yourself, and you need to be able to handle the ball.”
For now, Medcalf is learning as much as he can, both from his teammates and his competition, and contributing to the team as much as he can. And hopefully, he’ll be back someday for more.
“It's been a real experience coming all the way out here to Peru. It's a long way from home,” Medcalf said. “But once you get out here and get acclimated to it, it's been a great experience. It's definitely something I'm enjoying and I hope to come back.”