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Tahl Leibovitz Hall of Fame Induction

By Sean O'Neill | Feb. 03, 2016, 5:17 a.m. (ET)

Tahl Leibovitz

by Sean O'Neill

Team Leibovitz

Tahl Leibovitz was born in Haifa, Israel 40 years ago and moved to NY when he was 3 years old along with his twin sister Maja and older sibling Cecilia. Tahl had your normal childhood until around the age of 14, he decided to leave his home due to family issues.

He slept on the street, on roof tops and in subway for 7 years, riding the E train.  During this time he developed street smarts, ingenuity, and self-reliance. One of his proudest accomplishments he said was that no one ever stole his backpack even though he was attacked many times on the subway trains.  Tahl learned how to fight, grind and negotiate on a daily basis just to survive.

One day he and his buddies found a new activity at the Boys and Girls club in Queens. It wasn't world class table tennis but a more wood and sandpaper paddles, a beat-up saw horse table and a wobbly ball. The perfect game for the short in stature, but big in heart New Yorker.

Competing with childhood friends David Fernandez, Glenn brown, Santo Vasquez ; Tahl was far from the best, but he had one special talent, he never gave up. 

Eventually the ragtag group learned about Usatt and started playing sanctioned tournaments. They moved up the ratings charts, self-taught by playing tons of games daily like all good New York greats such as Miles and Reisman, just without the side bets. 

Atlanta 1996

At age 19 Tahl was introduced to para table tennis from Chris Lehman at the Westfield table tennis club in NJ, Tahl found out more about disabled table tennis and one year later joined the 1996 para team that played in Atlanta. Tahl has condition osteocondroma which limits his range of motion and keeps his wrist in a fixed position.

To remedy this issue he will often change or loosen his grip to change the racket angle in his hand. Quite ingenious, but how does one do that at the international level?

With world champion, Mitchell Seidenfeld as a team mate, the two won a Bronze medal in the team event and Tahl then surprised the field and took gold in class 7 singles over Germany's Jochen Wallmort. Tahl came home from Atlanta, still homeless, but with a gold medal to fuel his can do spirit.

NA Teams, NA Tour, Olympic Trials

Fast forward to NA Table Tennis’ repackaging of the US Open Team Championships and the North American tour.  If there was competition on the east coast and Tahl could hitch a ride he was there, battling in the rating events, and of course men’s Singles. No opponent was out of reach for this super grinder.

Big Apple Table Tennis & Team Contininuum

Tahl Leibovitz inherited a good amount of money from his Grandfather and used a small part of it to open a table tennis club in Astoria, Queens called Big Apple Table Tennis Academy but closed it when rent prices continue to sky rocket and a group of members that tended to want to play for free 7 days a week instead of paying the going rate.

Tahl continued to serve his community and decided to become part of Team Continuum to help raise money and awareness to cancer research by running and walking the NY City Marathon. I will say I was a bit surprised when I received a cell phone call saying he thought he just took a wrong turn around mile 22.

Worlds & Pan Ams

In 2002, I had the pleasure of joining the para team at the world championships in Taipei as the team leader and as fate would have it was able to provide some coaching support due to scheduling conflicts.   In my first corner assignment, Tahl beat the number #1 Chinese player in Open Singles 13-11 in the 5th. Our personalities really complemented each other and I could see that Team USA had a new medal contender among a team with a rich tradition of players like Mike Dempsey, Mitch Seidenfeld, Jennifer Johnson and Terese Terranova.

In Pan Am Play, Tahl was amazing.  From 2003 to 2015 he won 13 Gold Medals. At the 2006 World Championships he beat the #1 ranked player in the world and played for the Bronze medal in the Open Division.

We even tried our hand at playing doubles together and in 2004 entered the Olympic trials in DC and made it to the final round in Atlanta.

Ping Pong For Fighters & Howcasts

Of the table, Tahl loves sharing what he learned in the sport.  Over the past few years he has written a best-selling book called ping-pong for fighters and stared in a number of coaching videos by Howcast that have received over 2 million views.

"For over a decade, Tahl and I competed together in international tournaments against the best players in the world. And while his magical hands and crazy shot-making skills are legendary, the one thing I can say for sure is that Tahl Leibovitz has the strongest will to win of any player I have ever seen. He is the ultimate ping pong fighter."

Mitchell Seidenfeld - World Champion and Paralympic Gold Medalist

Athens-Beijing- London - Rio

After Atlanta, Tahl returned to Paralympic Competition winning a Bronze medal in Athens and then battling in Beijing and London in the very strong Class 9 division. 

Toronto 1995

This past summer in Toronto under the tutelage of National Para Coaches Stellan and Angie Bengtsson, Tahl Qualified for Rio and his 5th Paralympic Games by winning a Gold Medal in the para Pan Am Games. 

Graduation

As a coach and friend I am most proud of one more of Tahl’s amazing accomplishments.  With the backing of his wife Dawn, I watched Tahl obtain two undergraduate and two master’s degrees.  His most recent, a Master Social Work from NYU.  He did this without ever attending High School!  And I am happy to say he passed the National Social Work State exam last week and is officially a licensed social worker!

In conclusion, it sometimes comes up in interviews that Tahl was homeless for 7 years as a kid, well I think it is obvious that Tahl has always had a home in table tennis and I would like to introduce this years’ newest USATT Hall of Fame inductee, Tahl Leibovitz.

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Tahl Leibovitz

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