Paralympics table tennis shot defies eyes but not explanation

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

British table tennis player David Wetherill produced one of the most extraordinary moments of the 2012 Paralympics with an amazing headlong diving shot in his Class 6 (for athletes with severe impairments of arms and legs) clash in London.

David Wetherill returns the ball, without diving, during a match at the 2012 Paralympic Games. (REUTERS)
David Wetherill returns the ball, without diving, during a match at the 2012 Paralympic Games. (REUTERS)

This video shows Wetherill launching himself into a full-length layout to power a winner past German Thomasz Kusiak at the Excel Arena – to the audible delight of both the crowd and an awestruck commentator.

Wetherill's electrifying moment came during game four in a best-of-five match that he would eventually lose, signifying the end of his campaign at the Paralympics. But despite his exit, he has provided a moment that deserves a place in any highlight reel video from the sporting festivities in London this summer.

I might be 33 and fonder of baby back ribs than backhands and backspins these days, but many moons ago I was thinner, sharper and the Australian Open junior table tennis champion. As I break down Wetherill's point-winning shot, be assured that there are plenty of world class able-bodied table tennis players who have never played a shot as dramatic as this.

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So what makes Wetherill's stunner so out of the ordinary?

First of all: the obvious. The 22-year-old suffers from multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, a disease that affects cartilage in the legs. His movement, while impressive, is severely restricted by his condition. Which is why his shot against Kusiak defies belief.

Leading up to Wetherill's shot, he is effectively jammed up by Kusiak, who positions an excellent ball into the right hip of the Brit, meaning that neither a forehand nor backhand can be easily played.

Temporarily caught in two minds, Wetherill steps left to make room for his forehand, but this opens up the table for Kusiak, who takes advantage with a hard backhand punched shot that looks to win him the point.

Not so fast. Wetherill's dive looks like nothing more than an act of desperation at first and while athletically impressively, seems to have little chance of helping return the shot. With his feet suspended as he hits the ball, he is literally swinging his paddle in mid-air rather than using his legs to generate power.

But don’t be fooled into thinking this is this nothing more than a wild swing that somehow found its mark with a large helping hand of fortune. If not executed imperfectly, it would be easy for the ball to elevate out of control, which is why Wetherill comes over the top of the ball, imparting topspin, which gives the stroke enough height to clear the net but then drags it down towards the end of the trajectory, meaning it will strike Kusiak's side of the table.

[Related: Pistorius loses Paralympic race, alleges winner had unfair advantage]

There is still one element remaining though, and it is the one that turned an outstanding shot into a truly incredible one: In the fraction of a second before Wetherill made contact with the ball, he rolled his wrist slightly, meaning that sidespin as well as topspin would take place at impact. If not for the sidespin, the ball would likely have been positioned right at Kusiak's paddle. With it, however, the ball curved away from the German, kicking further to the left after impact with the table and spinning it past his outstretched arm.

Wetherill might have finished on the losing side, but with a flash of imagination and a never-quit mentality, he added a moment of magic to the Paralympic story.

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