TOKYO, Japan —- Despite their best efforts, Table Tennis athletes Tahl Leibovitz and Ian Seidenfeld of the U.S. couldn’t quite overcome Tajudeen Agunbiade and Alabi Olufemi of Nigeria in the men’s team class 9-10 matches.
It was best two-out-of-three matches. It started with a doubles match and was followed by two singles matches. They were defeated as a team 3-1 in the doubles, and then Leibovitz managed to beat Agundiabe 0-3, but ultimately Olufemi won over Seidenfled 3-0.
Afterwards, Seidenfeld hung his head and pressed his forefinger and thumb into his eyes. He expressed stark disappointment at the outcome of his match.
“I don’t feel good. I can’t say I feel good. I know it’s been a long tournament, so overall I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, so I’m not gonna let this match kind of sour the tournament, but I wish I had played a lot better and I wish I had played a lot smarter,” he said.
Seidenfeld had accomplished a lot. He’d just won gold in the men’s singles class 6 final just three days prior. Tahl insisted that the disparity between Seidenfeld and Olufemi’s classes made it an incredibly challenging match.
“We were very close in the doubles, I was trying to follow his advice and his lead. I played a little better in the singles, and he had a good chance to win that third match, but the guy’s a class 10 and Ian’s a class 6, and he still could’ve won that,” said Tahl.
The classifications signify how severely an athlete’s performance is affected by their impairment; the lower the number, the greater the severity. Leibovitz, a class 9, faced Agunbiade, also a class 9. But Seidenfeld, who is actually a class 6, went up against Olufemi, a class 10.
“For him to even compete against someone of that level— I’m just saying, not because he’s my teammate— is pretty impressive. And he could’ve won that match, and that’s unbelievable. So I think it was a success,” Tahl said. “[Seidenfeld has] beaten a lot of class 10s before, but that guy’s a very good player, so it’s really close tactics.”
Seidenfeld, a doubles specialist, confirmed that chemistry in a doubles match is important, and Tahl felt they didn’t have the sufficient chemistry necessary, although he believes they’ve improved a lot from the beginning.
“[We] did our best. Couldn’t execute our doubles— we just haven’t practiced enough. And singles, I didn’t have the same concentration and focus that I probably should have,” said Seidenfeld.
Tahl believes that they performed well and maintained a more positive outlook.
“[Seidenfeld] won a gold medal in the class 6 so I think he kind of relaxed a bit and lost focus. . . It’s kind of tough sometimes, you win and then you come down a little bit. But he did play exceptionally well in that doubles. He really played amazing,” said Tahl.
Tahl said that he has enjoyed competing alongside Seidenfeld so much, in fact, that he hopes Seidenfeld will join him in the Maccabiah Games in 2022, the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition.
Although he’d acknowledged that classification is a factor that presents certain challenges, Tahl wants young people to know that disability is more of a social construction.
“We’re all human beings, we all try to do the best that we can, and I would say— be confident, believe in yourself, trust yourself and do not be difficult with yourself. Try to be easy on yourself,” he said.
Orge Castellano contributed reporting.
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