Melissa Tapper became one of the first sportspeople to qualify in this cycle for both the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic berths, securing her Olympic berth t the 2016 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Oceania Championships at the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo. After losing in the semi-finals, she beat Fiji’s Grace Rosi Yee 11-2 and 11-3 to claim the third berth for Rio from her region. Because fellow Australian Jian Fang Lay qualified in the same event having beat Tapper, Australia has two women in Rio. This means that Tapper can compete in the single and team Olympic events.
This comes as no surprise if you follow Paralympic sport. She will be Australia’s first competitor to compete at the Olympics and Paralympics in the same cycle. Tapper has Erbs Palsy, and is a Class 10 player. She’s got the least level of physical disability of Paralympic table tennis players, and she originally started in the sport on the able-bodied side where she was regularly winning in local and national competitions. She was also internationally ranked, and had competed in several international competitions.
Tapper only came over to the Paralympic side after having been recruited by the Australian Paralympic Committee because they thought she could be a real medal contender at the London Games. The Paralympic side of the sport has a lot more diversity in who elite competitors are, and Europeans are a lot more dominant compared to the Olympic side. There was space for her to win and bring home the medals. While having the goal of competing at the Olympics, she started participating in para-table tennis. She did really well, winning a bronze medal after losing to Poland’s Natalia Partyka in the semi-finals. Partyka has been a dual Olympic and Paralympic competitor at the 2008 and 2012 Games.
In 2014, Tapper was selected to the Australian team for the Commonwealth Games, where she again came away with a bronze medal in what was nominally an able-bodied event. That same year, she won a bronze in the Women’s Singles SF10 at the World Championships in Beijing.
The 26-year-old is currently ranked fourth in the world in ITFF’s women’s Class 10 rankings. She is behind Brazil’s Bruna Costa Alexandre who is third, Partyka who is second, and China’s Qian Yang who is first.