Ian Seidenfeld of Lakeville did not think he would be a Paralympian at age 20. His father and coach, Mitchell — a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame and a four-time Paralympic medalist, including gold in 1992 — worried about the pressure of following in his footsteps.
But Ian's moment arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, when he became a Paralympic champion with his dad nearby as a team coach. Seidenfeld won the gold medal in Class 6 men's singles, beating the defending champion and world No. 1-ranked Peter Rosenmeier of Denmark, 11-9, 11-8, 11-8. The U.S. last won a Paralympic gold medal in table tennis in 1996, the year Mitchell Seidenfeld won a silver in singles and bronze in the team event.
Ian Seidenfeld had lost to Rosenmeier in his first preliminary match, 3-2. But he did not lose again in the tournament.
"I couldn't have dreamt for anything better," Ian said in an article Saturday on teamusa.org. "I dreamt of it before the tournament, during the tournament, and now it's coming to reality."
With Tokyo under a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions in place, most athletes at the Paralympics are competing without their families in attendance. But because Mitchell is also the team coach, he got to celebrate with his son moments after the match.
"When he started to play table tennis, I knew that he would want to be good," Mitchell told teamusa.org. "And he's had to deal with a lot of pressure because he had to become a gold medalist. And it's very difficult.
"So now he is a gold medalist. He has no more pressure. It was a little too much pressure for a boy to have, thinking that the only way to be successful is to be the best, but maybe it's what drove him to become the best."
Seidenfeld started playing table tennis when he was 6. His path to Tokyo accelerated during his sophomore year at Lakeville North High School, when he won two international tournaments. He qualified for the Paralympics in 2019 and used the one-year postponement to his advantage, gaining extra training time with his father.
"Being compared to my dad, to be close to his level, would make me very happy," Seidenfeld told the Star Tribune before the Paralympics. "The Paralympics has always been a goal, and my dad has always been very supportive of me. But I didn't think it would happen this soon."
Like his father, Seidenfeld has pseudoachondroplasia dwarfism. He competes in Class 6, which is for players who can stand but have severe impairments in their arms and legs. He practices three or four days per week at the Table Tennis Minnesota training center in South St. Paul. He is also a student at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, studying finance and entrepreneurial management.
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed reporting.