DESPITE the temptation of Tokyo 2020, veteran Australian Paralympic table tennis player Barak Mizrachi has announced his competitive retirement after almost two decades in the sport.
A phone call to leading Jewish table tennis coach Paul Bronstein 17 years ago ultimately proved to be the first step towards a national career Mizrachi could not even have dreamt of.
But the path that eventually led to a Paralympic and Commonwealth Games was paved with its challenges, some Mizrachi could never shake, so instead, he embraced them.
Born with cerebral palsy affecting the right side of his body, the Victorian countered his physical disability with defiance and a competitive streak to match.
Introduced to the game by his father, Mizrachi played regularly for his school, McKinnon College, before starting a long and decorated affiliation with Maccabi Table Tennis Club.
He began competing in 2001 at the age of 13 and under the watchful eye of Bronstein, made his Australian debut two years later at the 2003 Maccabi Pan American Games, which would prove to be the first of six Maccabi world events, including four Maccabiah Games resulting in a bronze medal in 2017.
Bronstein has coached thousands of able-bodied Jewish players over the past 35 years, as well as those with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Describing Mizrachi as a “lovely person, but also a bit of a rough diamond,” the pair shared a close bond.
“[Barak became] part of my family, he and my son used to train together all the time, they had a special bond,” Bronstein said.
“Barak’s serve was as good as anyone … strong forehand, very strong all round and a beautiful technique that was lovely to watch.”
In the early days Mizrachi often questioned whether he could “make it”, and almost two decades later those questions have been emphatically answered.
His retirement announcement last week closes the curtain on a highly successful eight years as a member of the National Para Squad.
Under the tutelage of former Australian Olympian Mark Smythe, Mizrachi held the number one ranking in Australia and Oceania’s 6-10 class, and reached a career-high of 24 worldwide.
In 2013 he made history becoming the first Australian athlete with a disability to be selected to compete in table tennis at the Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia, and in 2015 he was crowned the best and fairest player at the Oceania Regional Para Table Tennis Championships after he upset the raging favourite to win gold, leading to his Rio selection.
Mizrachi’s work as a gas engineer was often put on the back burner as his table tennis career took him to tournaments in China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, England, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia.
So why after winning his sixth class 8 title at the National Para Championships last week and with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, has Mizrachi called it quits?
“I’ve basically achieved every-thing I wanted to achieve,” he said. “Mentally I wasn’t in it any more, so it was my time to go.
“It hit home after playing the national para champs last week, that was it, it’s all over, so it was a bittersweet feeling.”
It was on a recent trip to Israel that retirement appealed to him.
“I realised that it was the first time in about 15 years that I’d gone overseas not for table tennis.”
With further pleasure travel plans on the agenda, Mizrachi’s competitive career is over but his passion for the game still burns strongly and he’ll continue playing socially, “purely for fun and enjoyment”.
“I’m looking forward to helping and mentoring the next generation of players,” he said.
Away from the table, Mizrachi became a board member of Table Tennis Victoria in 2018 and sits on the state selection committee.
Jack Cyngler, Maccabi Table Tennis Club president and Table Tennis Victoria chair said, “Barak has been a great example to his community and has demonstrated courage, determination and dedication.
Jeff Sher, Maccabi Australia president, acknowledged Mizrachi’s contribution to the Maccabi movement.
“Barak has been a strong supporter and advocate for Maccabi both on and off the sports field.
“His achievements have been remarkable and we wish him well in his retirement knowing that his legacy will prevail across all sports and abilities.”