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Fourth-Place Medal

Poland’s Natalia Partyka will compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics

Fourth-Place Medal

Natalia Partyka (Getty Images)

At the start of her first-round table tennis match against Denmark's Mie Skov, Poland's Natalia Partyka had a small but vocal contingent of fans from her homeland supporting her.

By the decisive seventh game of her come-from-behind 4-3 victory, Partyka had won over most of the neutral fans in attendance too.

[Related: Double Amputee Pistorius arrives for games]

It was no surprise to see fans clad in Union Jack face paint or Brazilian T-shirts get behind Partyka because the 23-year-old has one of the most remarkable stories of any Olympian. Partyka, who was born without a right hand and forearm, is one of only two athletes who will compete at both the Olympics and Paralympics this year.

The story of South Africa's Oscar Pistorius has gotten more publicity because the idea of a double amputee sprinter is so improbable, but Partyka's path to London is also compelling.

In an interview with MSNBC this month, Partyka said she was 7 years old when she first began following 11-year-old sister Sandra to the table tennis hall in their native Gdansk, Poland. Partyka's primary goal at that point was merely to get good enough to beat her older sister. When she finally did win, it wasn't only her sister she could defeat.

At age 11, Partyka represented Poland at the 2000 Paralympics, becoming the youngest player in any sport to compete. At age 15, she won a gold medal in the singles at the 2004 Paralympics and a silver in the team event. And at age 19, she won gold again in the 2008 Paraylmpics and also made her Olympic debut in Beijing.

[Related: Women's table tennis singles second-round results]

The only impact Partyka's disability has on her table tennis game is her serve. Whereas other players begin their serve by tossing the ball with their off hand, she has learned to do the same by cradling the ball in the crook of her right elbow.

Besides that, there is no indication she is competing with just one arm. Partyka plays with grace and power and has risen all the way to No. 68 in the world.

It's unlikely Partyka will be much of a threat to medal either in the individual competition or the team competition because the top players from Asia are simply too strong, but it's a great accomplishment that she has made it to London at all. And rest assured that whenever she competes, she'll have the crowd on her side.

More Olympic coverage from the Yahoo! Sports network:
Photos: U.S. medal winners
Photos: Ryan Lochte steals spotlight in London
The mystery of the Indian intruder at the Opening Ceremony

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