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Bear attack survivor Ma Lin going for Aussie table tennis gold in Tokyo

Julian Linden, August 23, 2021 7:00PM News Corp Australia Network

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Australia's Ma Lin practises before competition starts at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: PA media_cameraAustralia's Ma Lin practises before competition starts at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: PA

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Every member of the Australian Paralympic team has had to travel a unique and difficult road to Tokyo, but few have faced as many wild twists and turns along the way as Ma Lin, the one-armed table tennis player gunning for gold.

The naturalised* Australian’s right arm was eaten by a brown bear at a zoo near his family home in provincial* China in the mid 1990s.

Ma Lin was just five years old at the time and lost so much blood that he was lucky to survive the attack. It changed the course of his life, but to this day, he does not blame the caged animal.

“I thought he was my friend because I used to go to the zoo every week to feed him,” Ma Lin said.

“So, I just decided to reach out and pat him, but I guess he was not in a good mood that day.”

Without warning, the giant bear bit clean through Ma Lin’s right arm.

Blood was gushing out of the wound, but he remained conscious*.

“I think I was in a bit of shock,” he said. “But I didn’t cry. Not once.”

Ma Lin’s friend, a six year old who had also come with him to the zoo, sprinted across the road to call his parents for help, while a group of tourists who witnessed the shocking incident put Ma Lin in a taxi and rushed him to hospital because there was not enough time to wait for an ambulance.

The surgeons at the hospital saved his life.

Australia’s Table Tennis Team new addition Lin Ma practicing prior to the start of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games Paralympics Australia / Day -4 Tokyo Japan : Friday 20th Aug 2021 © Sport the library / Greg Smith / PA media_cameraMa Lin in action as he prepares to represent Australia at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: PA

A budding pianist* before the attack, Ma Lin switched his focus to table tennis after he got hooked on the sport watching China sweep all four gold medals on offer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

But there was a problem he had to overcome.

He was a natural right hander so he had to teach himself to do everything left handed. Once he mastered that, there was no stopping him.

Competing for China, he won his first Paralympic gold medal at Beijing in 2008, then two more at London in 2012 and another one at Rio in 2016, when he decided to make a life-changing decision to move to Australia.

Ma Lin and two other Chinese table tennis champions, Lei Lina and Yang Qian, all moved to Australia and pledged* their allegiance* to their new homeland.

Australia’s Table Tennis Team new additions (L-R) Qian Yang, Lin Ma and Lina Lei practicing prior to the start of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games Paralympics Australia / Day -4 Tokyo Japan : Friday 20th Aug 2021 © Sport the library / Greg Smith / PA media_cameraYang Qian, Ma Lin and Lei Lina have boosted the Australian tennis table team for the Paralympics. Picture: PA

All three have been selected for Tokyo – as part of a record 11-member team that has real hopes of getting on the podium after Sam von Einem broke a 32-year drought when he won a silver medal for Australia in Rio.

“It was really a lifestyle decision by all three of them. They‘re all good friends with each other,” said Australian head coach Alois Rosario, who has overseen the rebuilding of the national table tennis program since being appointed in 2013.

“Probably the most pleasing thing for us is that they‘re still keen to improve. They’re still keen to work hard, they’re still keen to play table tennis at the highest level and now really keen to represent Australia.

“Ma Lin talks about wanting to keep going to 2032 when he‘ll be 43 years old but Ma Lin’s an exceptional character and an exceptional athlete, so if he says he can do it then I believe him.”

GLOSSARY

  • naturalised: became a citizen of a country
  • provincial: areas outside the cities
  • conscious: awake, aware of what is happening
  • pianist: someone who plays the piano
  • pledged: promised
  • allegiance: loyalty or commitment to a country

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How old was Ma Lin when he was attacked by the bear?
  2. What did Ma Lin play before the bear attack?
  3. What year did Ma Lin win his first Paralympic gold medal?
  4. Which country was he competing for when he won this medal?
  5. Who is Alois Rosario?

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