BEIJING -- World table tennis governing body ITTF awarded on Monday a special honor to the veteran paddlers who had played at least six Paralympics.
A total of 10 players - two women and eight men - from seven countries and regions got the honor.
Rainer Schmidt of Germany (C) poses for photos with umpires after his men`s individual class 6 round robin table tennis match against Miroslaw Kowalski of Poland at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games Sept. 9, 2008. Schmidt won the match 3-0 and advanced to the quarterfinals. [Xinhua]
"The award is to encourage disabled players for their persistence and excellent performance in table tennis," ITTF Technical Committee chairman, Yao Zhenxu, said.
"Twenty years are a long time. It is even not easy for able-bodied people to play that long. For them, it is much more difficult," he said.
Chairperson of the ITTF Para Table Tennis Committee, Oivind Eriksen, presented the awards to the players.
Chinese veteran paddler Zhang Xiaoling returns a shot during the women`s individual F8 table tennis semifinal at the Beijing Paralympic Games on Sept. 10, 2008. [Xinhua]
"I am very impressed that it has been possible to perform on top level in table tennis over a period of 20 and 24 years," he said. "You are great examples for the next table tennis generations."
Zhang Xiaoling, a Chinese player in women`s class 8 that has won 10 gold medals in the previous five Paralympics, said she was "really happy" for the honor.
"I know how difficult it is for disabled people to play for more than 20 years. Many of them did not win so many medals, and it would be particularly difficult for them. They are all heroes," she said.
Zhang won a bronze in this Beijing tournament in her individual event just a couple of days ago.
German Rainer Schmidt, a 7-time Paralympics contender who won 4 gold and 4 silver, is among the awarded.
"This is a crown for my career. I started as a young boy playing table tennis, I didn`t want to win a medal like this, and it happened. Now, 25 years are gone and I am in the end of career. That is very nice," he said.
Schmidt and Kwong Kam Shing from Hong Kong are the only two that participated in 7 Paralymipcs since 1984 in New York.
"I played table tennis from 1984 to 2008, and I have never stopped for even one day," Kwong said. "Now I am really happy to win this honor on my motherland. It is a great encouragement."
The rest of those 6-time Paralympics contenders are Lee Hae-Kon from South Korea, Monikia Sikora Weinmann from Germany, Manfred Dollmann from Austria, Ernst Bollden from Sweden as well as Neil Robinson, James Rawson and Arnie Chan from Britain.
Yao and head of the operational department of the Peking University venue, Zhang Yan, were also awarded a special honor for their great efforts to organize the competitions.
Last month in the Beijing Olympics, the ITTF also awarded a special honor to three veteran players, including Swedish Jorgen Persson, for playing at their 6th Olympics since the sport was introduced in Seoul in 1998.