Italy next stop for GB Team on road to Rio

World champion Will Bayley heads a 16-strong squad that will compete in the Lignano Master Open in Italy next week (February 17-20), the first international competition of the season for the GB Para Table Tennis Team as it prepares for this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.

Will Bayley final 9Bayley, the current men’s class 7 world number one, faces tough opposition from the World number two and three from the Ukraine, Maksym Nikolenko and Mykhaylo Popov, as well as Dutchman Jean-paul Montanus, the world number six who beat Bayley to win the European title last October.

“Training has been going really well,” said the 28 year old Paralympic silver medalist. “The whole squad is playing brilliantly and we are really looking forward to playing in Italy. It is a fantastic tournament and I’m really focused on doing the best I can but obviously I want to peak in Rio and this is a stepping stone. The competition is going to be very strong but that is what I want – I was really excited when I saw the players list because I want the best players there and it is a great test for me to see where my level is at the moment.”

The GB squad for Italy includes fellow London 2012 medalists Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson, Jane Campbell and Sara Head, World silver medalist Sue Gilroy and 2015 European championship medalists Tom Matthews, Paul Karabardak, Megan Shackleton, Billy Shilton and David Wetherill.

Aaron McKibbin 2Aaron McKibbin secured his qualification for Rio by winning gold in the men’s class 8 singles at the China Open last November, beating the Chinese World number two in the final. After a tough winter’s training he is looking to continue that good form in 2016.

“I’m excited to kick the season off and start what is going to be a big year for the whole team and the country so I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “China taught me a lot about myself and gave me a big confidence boost and it’s now time for me to use it as a stepping stone to push on to better things. Obviously everyone would like to make a good start in Italy but it is a long season and still eight months away from the Games. The key is to be at our peak for Rio but every opportunity we have to play internationals we want to be as ready as we can and play as well as we can so it will be good to see what happens.”

Ross Wilson Vejle 2015 11Ross Wilson won a team bronze with Bayley and McKibbin in London as a 17 year old but has had to contend with a string of injuries over the past three years that have restricted him to only four international competitions. However, the 20 year old showed at the European Championships last October that he has the talent to compete with the best in winning a bronze in the men’s class 8 team event.

“The beginning of the winter was really tough,” he said. “That is always when I like to put in the most amount of work and I put myself through a lot of hard times at the beginning of the winter but I think now I am starting to feel the benefit of everything and I’m really looking forward to starting the season. Injury is part of sport and I’ve come to realise it is part of my disability but that is not a problem as I know I’ll be able to compete at the highest level no matter what affects me in the future and that is probably the biggest bonus that has come out of all my injuries. Obviously I’ll look to do my best in Italy as I always do – it’s the first competition of a big season for everyone and it’s always nice to do well but it’s not the main event at the end of the day. My main goal is Rio and always has been since London and I’m really looking forward to getting out there and competing.”

Jane Campbell action 8 2014Jane Campbell is hoping for a good start to the season after a tough winter’s training.

“The winter is always the time to focus on learning new things which we’ve done a lot of so I’m quite positive about it,” said Campbell. “Sara and I have also been working on things that will hopefully help us in the team event so it will be exciting to see how that goes in Italy and the few technical things in my game I’ve been working on. It will be great to make a good start and I’m sure everyone else will have that in mind as well so I don’t imagine it is going to be any easier than it has been before but I’ll certainly give it my best. We’re still in the early stages of starting to build for Rio but Italy is a preparation tournament for Rio which makes it exciting.”

Sara Head Nat Champs 2015After two winter training sessions affected by illness and injury Sara Head has been enjoying an uninterrupted preparation to the 2016 season.

“It’s been a novelty to be able to train through the winter and I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s been a good challenge and it’s really inspired me to keep working hard rather than trying to catch up with everyone else. Results are important to me in Italy but also the fact that I achieve what I’ve been working on as that is something I need to build on now that will hopefully give me an edge in Rio. It’s been good to be able to work on my game and what I can improve so it will be interesting to see how all that’s going.”

Sue Gilroy 1Sue Gilroy combines her table tennis career with working full time as a primary school teacher and has been taking advantage of half term to train full time with the rest of the GB squad at the EIS in Sheffield.

“The first competition of the season is always difficult,” she said, “but I’ve been playing in the able bodied league so I’ve had lots of matches and been playing well there so I am hoping I can take that form into Italy. It’s been really good for me to train with the rest of the GB squad this week and I haven’t lost a game all week which shows me that the practice I’ve been doing has been the right practice so things are looking good at the moment.”

Paul Karabardak Vejle 2015Paul Karabardak enjoyed a very successful season in 2015 after being reclassified as a class 6 athlete, including gold medals in Hungary and Slovenia. The 30 year old from Swansea, who also took team silver and individual bronze at the European Championships last year, is looking to continue that form in Italy.

“Training has been good,” he said. “I’ve been playing well and training hard and I’m quite happy with the way I’m playing. I’m excited about the new season and I’m hoping I can take that form into Italy. It is still early in the year and there is a lot to work on and Rio is the ultimate aim but Italy will still be important and hopefully I can get some good wins and take a medal.”

David Wetherill Vejle 2015David Wetherill capped a successsful season in 2015 by taking individual bronze and team silver in the European Championships and is also hoping to continue that form into Italy.

“When you are training all the time your game is in a constant state of fluidity,” he said, “and you are always trying to get better and I’ve been working on a lot of things recently. Although I was playing quite well at the back end of last season I’ve always been looking for improvements and there are a few things I’m really looking forward to trying in Italy. It’s a very important tournament but I’m going in with an open mind and I really want to just nail down the things I’ve been working on recently and hopefully I can improve my ranking and my seeding position before Rio.”

Megan Shackleton & Sue Gilroy doubles Vejle 2015 2Megan Shackleton has made rapid progress since making her international debut just over two years ago and finished last season just outside an automatic Paralympic qualification place after taking a team bronze with Gilroy at the European Championships. Although she could still receive a wild card to compete in Rio she has been focusing on training and continuing her improvement.

“Training has been going really well this winter,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on last season and how I want to bring in the improvements and so far I’m feeling really strong with what I am doing. I think it is always good to make a good start to the season for confidence but I just really want to show that in pressurised years I can still put on good performances and not let occasions get to my head. Rio is out of my control now and I don’t want to waste my energy worrying about it. I always train hard and a wild card would be a great opportunity but I’ll have to wait and see what happens in March.”

Pathway players Tom Matthews and Billy Shilton also made impressive progress last year to medal at their first major championship. Both finished last year just outside a Paralympic qualification place but are still hoping to receive a wild card to compete in Rio.

Tom Matthews Vejle 2015 4“Training has been going well,” said Matthews. “I’m playing well so I’m really happy at the moment. I want to carry on playing well as I did at the end of last season and carry on working hard. The thought that I might go to Rio is always in the back of my mind but I’ve just got to carry on training hard and if I get a wild card I’ll go. Rio was always going to be a bonus and if I do go it will be amazing and if I don’t I will carry on training just as hard as ever.”

Billy Shilton Vejle 2015 3“Training has been going really well,” said Shilton, “and I’ve been playing a lot of able bodied competitions in England – Grand Prix and Junior British League – trying to get match sharp for Italy so I’m looking forward to it. I’m working a lot on my movement trying to get faster. Now that I am in class 8 everyone’s movement is a lot better so I need to improve but it is going really well at the moment. I’m really excited to play an international competition again – the last one was in Costa Rica and I didn’t play as well as I’d hoped but I am hoping that all the training I’ve done since then will come into play and I’ll play well in Italy.”

The squad for Italy is completed by Kim Daybell, Ashley Facey Thompson, Jack Hunter- Spivey, Martin Perry and Felicity Pickard.

Kim Daybell has taken a year out of his medical studies to prepare for Rio and has been dividing his time between training with the GB squad at the EIS in Sheffield and the national able bodied team in Slovenia.

Kim Daybell Vejle 2015 3“Training through the winter has been great,” said Daybell. “With the weight of meeting the qualification criteria for Rio off my shoulders I have been able to enjoy training a lot more and make the changes to my game that I feel will make me a better player in Rio. I think I am now fully settled in to full time training and feel good about the coming year. Training in Slovenia has helped me see another perspective on how the game of table tennis is played. I have learned to be a more complete match player and it has changed my mental approach to the game itself. I hope to be able to bring my best form to Italy. Though it is not the be all and end all it is important to play well to improve my ranking for when Rio comes around. I feel a lot more comfortable going into this tournament than the ones last year and hope to medal as I did last year at the same tournament.”

Ashley Facey Thompson is still waiting to see if his current world ranking of 15 will be enough to earn him qualification for Rio but has been training hard in London and with the GB squad in Sheffield.

Ashley Facey Thompson Vejle 2015“Training is going really well at the moment,” he said. “I’ve been fighting for every ball and keeping up the same momentum as I was when I was training full time in Sheffield. I’ve had a really good week training with the rest of the GB squad which has made me more consistent and more confident and hopefully I can produce my best form in Italy. I haven’t got a lot of pressure on me at the moment because I’m still waiting to see if I will qualify for Rio or get a wild card but it is out of my hands now. I’ve just got to carry on working hard.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey 1Jack Hunter-Spivey is currently ranked world number nine in men’s class 5 and finished last season by taking silver in the China Open.

“Training through the winter has been really good,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I’ve been away to other countries training with different players and I feel like my game overall has improved a lot. In Italy I’m hoping to get as much match practice as I can, put what I’ve been working on in training into practice and see what results I get. I feel like I’m playing a lot better than I was at the start of last season and I want to show what I can do.”

Martin Perry France 4Martin Perry, 21, missed out on qualification for this year’s Paralympic Games but is now training full time in Sheffield with the GB squad and has his sights set on Tokyo.

“I think training full time with the squad has really helped my game,” said Perry, “but it is also quite physically demanding which is new to me. Going from training two or three days a week to two sessions every day is tough but I’m really seeing the benefit from it and I’m really enjoying it. I feel that I’m playing good at the moment and feel quite sharp so I’m looking to have a good event in Italy and crack on and keep climbing the world ranking list as I did at the end of last year.”

Felicity Pickard Belgium 2015 3Felicity Pickard returned to international competition last October to win gold in Belgium.

“Training has been going really well,” said the 21 year old from Burnley. “I’ve been progressing a lot and making some improvements because Belgium gave me the confidence to go forwards. I’m looking to dominate the games more with a more aggressive approach and seeing how that works. I can’t wait to get out to Italy – it should be good.”

“With the Paralympic Games less than seven months away Rio is obviously the main focus for this year,” said GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko, “but there is a lot of work to be done before then. The team has been working hard through the winter and Italy will be a tough competition with many of the world’s best players competing. We obviously want the players to peak in Rio but this is an important competition for us in our preparation for the Games.”

The full list of GB players competing in Italy is:

Performance Squad
Will Bayley – Tunbridge Wells/Sheffield (class 7)
Jane Campbell – London (class 3)
Kim Daybell – Sheffield/Leeds (class 10)
Ashley Facey Thompson – London (class 9)
Sue Gilroy – Barnsley (class 4)
Sara Head – Beddau (class 3)
Jack Hunter-Spivey – Liverpool/Sheffield (class 5)
Paul Karabardak – Swansea (class 6)
Aaron McKibbin – London/Sheffield (class 8)
Megan Shackleton – Todmorden (class 4)
David Wetherill – Torpoint (class 6)
Ross Wilson – Minster/Sheffield (class 8)

Pathway Squad
Thomas Matthews – Aberdare (class 1)
Martin Perry – Paisley/Sheffield (class 6)
Felicity Pickard – Burnley (class 6)
Billy Shilton – Stonehouse/Sheffield (class 8)

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Matthews wins Disability Sport Wales Award

GB Pathway athlete Tom Matthews has won the Disability Sport Wales Emerging Athlete Award against strong opposition including wheelchair basketball player Harri Jenkins and skier Menna Fitzpatrick.

The 23 year old from Aberdare was nominated by Jim Munkley after a successful 2015 in which he won team gold in Germany and team gold and individual bronze at the European Championships.

Tom Matthews Vejle 2015 4“I’m over the moon,” he said. “Obviously to get recognised for my sport and what I’m doing means the hard work is paying off and I’m really happy at the moment. I didn’t expect to win an award this early in my career. I’ll just carry on what I’m doing and hopefully win a few more awards and a few more medals.”

“He never shrinks from anything and he works so hard,” said Munkley, who introduced Matthews to table tennis after an accident while mountain biking left him wheelhair bound at the age of 16. “Tom’s attitude is ‘I want to be the best I can’ and that says it all really. I really do think Tom will be number one in the world. He’s got the attitude and the right approach.”
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Public urged to ‘Supercharge ParalympicsGB’ in major new fundraising campaign

The British Paralympic Association today urged the British public to help ‘Supercharge ParalympicsGB’ and show their support for our athletes over the course of 2016 and beyond.

WILL BAYLEY_landscape_logo_creditSupercharge ParalympicsGB is the first time that the British Paralympic Association (BPA) has launched such a major public facing campaign to generate support and raise funds for ParalympicsGB.

The ParalympicsGB team will face its toughest competition yet in Rio with standards increasing across all sports among other nations and that is likely to become even harder over coming Games. Following a home games in London the team also faces a decade of long haul travel – with upcoming Games in Rio, Pyeongchang, Tokyo and Beijing. It will be more challenging and expensive than ever before for the BPA to support athletes that in turn can inspire real change across society through their performances.

The BPA, a registered charity, has historically received some public fundraising support but the ‘Supercharge ParalympicsGB’ campaign will take this to a whole new level and a major drive to fundraise money to help take ParalympicsGB to Rio and beyond. Alongside the fantastic support already received from the National Lottery and the BPA’s commercial partners, the funds raised will help best prepare the team in the crucial final days before Rio and lay the ground for future success.

Supercharge ParalympicsGB is being supported by the BPA’s blue chip commercial sponsors and by four high-profile Ambassadors:

Paralympic legend and BPA patron Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson expressed her strong support for the campaign, saying:

“The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be the toughest, most competitive Games yet and ParalympicsGB will need to be the best it’s ever been to win the medals the nation craves. The team needs as much support and preparation as possible in the final crucial months of preparation to win those medals and ensure Great Britain continues to be a leading force in Paralympic sport over the next decade. I am delighted to be part of this campaign to ask the British public to give its support.”

Fellow BPA Patron and disability sport supporter Clare Balding is also one of the Supercharge ambassadors. She said: “Paralympic sport goes from strength to strength and we saw in London just how much the British public got behind the ParalympicsGB team. I know that ParalympicsGB will absolutely enthrall and excite the British public again this summer. But to do so they will need to make sure that everything they do is world-class so that they can produce those world class performances.”

Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard is a long-term supporter of diversity and a keen athlete. He commented: “London 2012 showed the nation that the Paralympic Games and the ParalympicsGB team are the most inspiring team in the UK. Their success this summer will inspire the nation, continue to challenge perceptions and ultimately help create a better world for disabled people. But to do that the public needs to get behind the team and help to fund their success through donations and fundraising. ”

Alex Brooker, who has co-presented the Last Leg TV programme on Channel 4 since London 2012, said: “The Paralympics in London were amazing, but the Paralympics in Rio looks set to be even more so. I can’t wait for this summer so that I do my bit to support and promote the ParalympicsGB team on Channel 4, but the public can help support them now.”

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association, said of the launch: “We want to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to win medals and make the nation proud in Rio and beyond. That means getting the public and our partners involved to help to Supercharge the team to make the ParalympicsGB team as successful and inspiring to others as possible.

“We have incredible support already from the National Lottery and UK Sport, but the crucial final part of the journey to Rio requires as much funding as possible to ensure the team are ready for success. That is why we are launching this campaign and asking the public for its support. How far all our athletes go depends on you!”

The Supercharge ParalympicsGB campaign launch includes the release of a new inspiring campaign film and some iconic imagery of ParalympicsGB stars including Jonnie Peacock, Ali Jawad, Jordanne Whiley, Libby Clegg and Will Bayley.

The campaign also offers the public a Text to Donate facility – TEXT “SUPER” to 70700 – and a wide range of fundraising tools and equipment.

All the above can be found at the Supercharge campaign website:

The campaign has been developed from the start with the fantastic pro bono support of major London creative agency RKCR/Y&R. Their strategic and creative expertise is central to the campaign’s delivery in 2016.

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Three team medals for GB in Costa Rica

The GB Para Table Tennis Team finished the Copa Costa Rica – the final international tournament of 2015 – with a total of seven medals, adding three team medals to the four singles medals won earlier in the week. Thomas Matthews took silver with Switzerland’s Silvio Keller in men’s class 1, Martin Perry combined with men’s class 7 European champion Jean-paul Montanus from The Netherlands and the Belgian Ben Despineux to take silver in men’s class 6-7 and Ashley Facey Thompson picked up a bronze in men’s class 10 with his Costa Rican partners Alejandro Hidalgo Herrera and Jose Angel Quesada Rojas.

Matthews and Keller began their round robin men’s class 1 team event with a 3-1 win over the top seeds Korea. Matthews, currently World ranked 19, had been forced to retire from his singles final against Young Dae Joo due to heat exhaustion and in their rematch he came back from 2-1 down to beat the Korean World number five 11-9 in the fifth and then clinched the tie with a 3-2 win over World number seven Jae-Kwan Cho.

A narrow 3-2 loss for the 23 year old Welshman against World number nine Yunier Fernandez Izquierdo gave the advantage in their second match to the Cuban/Russian combination and although Matthews and Keller fought back to take the doubles 3-0 Fernandez Izquierdo beat Keller 3-0 to secure the tie for his team. In their final match against a combined team from Finland and USA Matthews beat Matti Launonen 3-0 and combined with Keller to win a close doubles 3-2 and the tie 3-0 which secured the silver medal.

Tom Matthews Vejle 2015 4“I feel I played well in the team event,” said Matthews. “We knew Korea would be a tough match and I played really well against Joo and it was a battle right to the very end where I clinched the win in the fifth set. It was an overwhelming feeling knowing I’d just beaten a top 10 player. Against Cho I started out a little slow – I was still overwhelmed with my win beforehand – but when I started getting settled I became composed and had a positive attitude. Overall this tournament has been one of my best performances all year; I’m so proud to be part of a great team and can’t wait to get back training in the New Year to get stronger and more consistent.”

Perry lost a very close match to Danny Bobrov in the opening tie against Israel/South Africa but the GB/Netherlands/Belgium combination went on to win the tie 3-1 and followed up with a 3-2 win over Japan2, Perry clinching the tie with a 3-0 win over Junki Itai. That set up a semi-final against Japan1 and a 3-1 win took them through to the final against France in which Perry did not play and Montanus and Despineux were beaten 3-1 by Kevin Dourbecker and Stephane Messi.

Martin Perry France 4“I feel that my performance in team wasn’t quite as strong as in the singles,” said Perry. “As the tournament has progressed I’ve really felt it take its toll on my body. However, I’m very happy with my mental strength because even though my body was struggling I still fought for every point in every match for my team and I’m incredibly happy with our final position. To come away from a strong Factor 40 tournament with two medals is a great achievement personally and to get my biggest ever win over the world number nine makes me really excited for the year ahead in 2016.”

Facey Thompson and his Costa Rican team mates began with a 3-1 loss to the combined team of the Austrian Krisztian Gardos and Marcin Skrzynecki from Poland. However, after beating Skrzynecki the 20 year old London South Bank University student, a class 9 player, put up a great performance against Gardos, pushing the class 10 World number ten all the way in a 3-2 loss.

Ash Facey Thompson Vejle 2015The withdrawal of Poland and the combined Hungarian/Japanese team put GB/Costa Rica through to the semi-finals and although the Russian team proved too strong Facey Thompson, who was beaten 3-0 by Iurii Nozdrunov twice in the singles competition, gave the World number two a much tougher match which the Russian eventually won 13-11 in the fourth.

“Against Gardos I believed I could win the match,” said Facey Thompson. “I was fighting for every point and I took him close but his experience came out in the end and he proved that he was the better player in the fifth. I think I played very good table tennis – the best I could have done. Against Nozdrunov I played my hardest – I moved well and wasn’t nervous but played very aggressive with my shots. I came up short against him but I played my best.”

Billy Shilton also teamed up with two players from Costa Rica in the round robin men’s class 9 team event and the 17 year old from Stonehouse got his team off to a great start against Netherlands/Japan with a 3-1 win over Arufuahirokazu Tateishi. However, the experienced class 9 Dutchman Tonnie Heijnen won the tie for his team with a 3-1 win over class 8 Shilton.

The second match against a combined team from Finland and Chile resulted in a 3-1 loss and although Shilton won the first singles of their final match against Shaquille Joel Rivera Vicente 3-0 the Puerta Rican and his Nigerian partner Francis Chukwuemeka won a competitive doubles 3-2 and eventually took the tie 3-1 to leave GB/Costa Rica out of the medals.

Billy Shilton Vejle 2015 8“I thought I played well in the team event,” said Shilton, “but I just found my nerves got the better of me in certain big matches. But overall I feel like I performed well against some top players in class 9. I was 1-1, 10-8 up against a top player in class 9 from the Netherlands so I was pleased with the way I performed in that match and my others. Playing team in class 9 was very challenging but I really enjoyed playing a different variation of players – it was a great experience for me.”

“It has been a good competition,” said GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko, “and all four GB players have performed well and beaten higher ranked players. We will now have to wait until the updated world rankings are published in January to see how many of our players have qualified to compete in Rio next year.”

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Silver lining for GB in Costa Rica

Three GB players reached the finals of their respective singles events at the Copa Costa Rica Para Table Tennis competition in San Jose with Ashley Facey Thompson, Thomas Matthews and Martin Perry all winning silver medals and Billy Shilton taking bronze.

Ashley Facey Thompson Vejle 2015Facey Thompson progressed from his group in men’s class 9 with a 3-0 win over the higher ranked Nigerian Francis Chukwuemeka and a 3-0 win over the French World number 13 Frederic Bellais took him into the semi-final against Dezso Bereczki. The 20 year old Londoner received a walkover into the final when the Hungarian withdrew and he found the World number two Iurii Nozdrunov from Russia on top form in a 3-0 loss.

“I feel I played well,” said Facey Thompson. “To beat Bellais in the quarters was very good and I’m proud of that. In the final my level was not as good and I need to be one step higher but my opponent was very good. I just have to play my table tennis, fight for every point and see what happens in the team event now.”

Matthews topped his group in men’s class 1 and received a bye into the semi-finals. A 3-1 defeat of the Russian Dmitry Lavrov took him into the final against the World number five Young Dae Joo but after winning the first set 11-2 the 23 year old Welshman began to feel the effects of the heat and was forced to retire with the Korean leading 2-1.

Tom Matthews Vejle 2015 5“I had a slow start to the competition but when I started playing my game I felt in control,” said Matthews. “I played well to fight back from 2-0 down against Keller in the group and I felt I played well in the semi-final and came out with a good win over Lavrov. In the final I started off really well, forcing my game on to Joo, but unfortunately as the game went on I over-heated and had to forfeit the match under doctor’s orders. But in a way I’m glad it happened because I’ve learnt a lot about myself again at this tournament and can now work on this to come back stronger in 2016.”

In men’s class 6 Martin Perry progressed to the knockout stages with two wins from three in his group including a 3-2 win over Danny Bobrov the World ranked number 11 from Israel. After a 3-1 win over Junki Itai from Japan he put up a great performance to beat the French World number nine Bastien Grundeler 3-1 in the semi-final. Despite finding the experienced Italian Raimondo Alecci too good in the final the 21 year old from Paisley could be proud of his efforts.

Martin Perry France 4“I’m extremely happy with my performance,” said Perry. “To get the competition off to a fantastic start against Bobrov really spurred me on and gave me a big confidence boost. In the quarter-final I felt that my standard had slipped from the previous day but I dug deep to win 3-1 and although I lost the first set against Grundeler in the semi-final 12-10 I knew I was using the right tactics so I dug really deep and battled for a 3-1 victory, which was my biggest ever win. I was disappointed to lose the final 3-0 to Alecci but I feel I played well and despite the score I feel it was a good match. I think I’ve shown the level of player I can be and I am pleased with my results and really looking forward to the team event now.”

Shilton topped his group in men’s class 8 with two wins from two including a 3-2 win over the former World and Paralympic champion Mathieu Loicq from Belgium and he put up another fighting performance in the quarter-final to beat Fabian Rignell from Sweden 11-9 in the fifth. A 3-1 defeat by another very experienced Belgian Marc Ledoux in the semi-final meant that the Gloucestershire teenager had to be content with a bronze medal.

Billy Shilton Vejle 2015 3“Overall I’m really happy with the way I performed,” said Shilton. “I knew it was going to be difficult but the main thing for me was to keep fighting and not lose my head. In my group I was really happy to beat the Belgian player as he is a top player and was Paralympic champion and to win my quarter final was massive for me after being 8-4 down in the fifth. Now my focus is on the team event and I’m hoping I can keep up my form.”

The competition continues with the team events which conclude on Saturday.

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Costa Rica last stop for GB on Road to Rio

The final competition that will count towards qualification for the table tennis events at next year’s Paralympic Games in Rio takes place this week in Costa Rica from December 16-19.

Tom Matthews Vejle 2015 2

Tom Matthews

The GB Para Table Tennis Team is sending four players to compete in the Copa Costa Rica in San Jose including Ashley Facey Thompson, Billy Shilton and Tom Matthews, who all still have a chance of qualifying for Rio.

“It will be very tough competition in Costa Rica,” said GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko, “as there are a number of very good players from other countries who will also be looking to achieve the results that will secure qualification for the 2016 Paralympic Games.”

The full list of athletes competing for GB in Costa Rica is:

Ashley Facey Thompson – class 9, from London
Thomas Matthews – class 1, from Aberdare
Martin Perry – class 6, from Paisley
Billy Shilton – class 8, from Stonehouse (Gloucestershire)/Sheffield

Davies regains World number one ranking

European champion Rob Davies has regained the ITTF PTT world number one ranking in men’s class 1. The 31 year old Welshman first held the position in October 2013 after winning gold at the European Championships and his successful defence of his European title in Denmark in October this year, in which he beat the then world number one Jean-Francois Ducay in the final, has taken him back to the top of the rankings.

Rob Davies Vejle 2015“I’m really happy to be back at World number one,” said Davies, “it’s like an early Christmas present. I was number two before so it doesn’t make that much difference it terms of seeding for competitions but it will give me confidence and spur me on to prove that I am top of my class and give me motivation to train harder to try and stay there.”

The new rankings mean that the GB Para Table Tennis Team will go into Paralympic year with two of its athletes at World number one as World champion Will Bayley also currently heads the world rankings for men’s class 7.

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Three team medals for GB in China

Team photo China 2015The GB Para Table Tennis Team picked up three medals in the team events on the final day of the PTT China Open in Beijing today. Sue Gilroy and her partner Bhavina Patel from India took silver in the women’s class 4-5 team, Aaron McKibbin, with team partners Kim Daybell and Billy Shilton, added a bronze in men’s class 8-10 team to the gold he won in men’s class 8 singles and Jack Hunter-Spivey, partnered by Rafal Lis from Poland, added a bronze in men’s class 5 team to the silver he won in the singles.

Sue Gilroy 1Gilroy and Patel started their round robin team event with a 3-1 win over Brazil followed by a 3-2 victory over Chinese Taipei but a 3-0 defeat by the very strong Chinese team meant they had to be content with the silver medal. Nevertheless it was a good performance by four-time Paralympian Gilroy, who had been disappointed with her performance in the singles.

“I’m really pleased with how I played against the Chinese today,” said the class 4 Barnsley athlete. “Losing 13-10 in the fifth against the class 5 World number one shows I can compete with the Chinese which is positive for the future.”

Aaron McKibbin 2McKibbin, Daybell and Shilton progressed from their group with wins over combined teams from Brazil/Portugal and Poland/Japan and understandably found a very experienced Chinese team too strong in the semi-finals in a 3-0 defeat.

“I came here with a job to do and I feel that I was successful in achieving that,” said 24 year old McKibbin. “I’m very happy to have performed to a good level under these circumstances and I’ve shown that I can beat the best players in the world. It’s now time to kick on in training for next year.”

Billy Shilton Vejle 2015 13For 17 year old class 8 player Shilton it was a first experience of both playing in China and competing against class 10 players.

“I’m really pleased with the way I have played,” said the Gloucestershire teenager. “I was very happy to beat the Polish class 8 player in the singles as he has won gold medals in Paralympic Games. I’ve enjoyed playing team event in class 10 which has given me the opportunity to play against top players and I have learnt a lot. It’s been really exciting to play for the first time in China and I hope I will return in the future.”

Kim Daybell 4Daybell, who has taken a year off from his medical studies at Leeds University to focus on training for Rio, said: “It has been a challenging experience knowing that I came here to do a job under high pressure situations. I have been pleased that I have come through some tight matches and I’m happy to win a team medal which is always great when you’re representing your country.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey 1Hunter-Spivey and Lis lost a very tight match with China 3-2 but progressed from their group with a 3-1 win over a combined team from Korea and Spain. They also had to be content with a bronze medal when Hunter-Spivey’s Polish partner withdrew from the semi-final which gave their opponents from Chinese Taipei a walkover into the final.

“I feel like I’ve played really well throughout the competition,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I’ve had some very good wins under the circumstances and it gives me a good chance of qualification for Rio.”

GB head coach Greg Baker commented: “Overall this competition has been a huge success for us. We came here with a mission and I can honestly say we exceeded what we set out to do. We had athletes competing and gaining valuable experience against Chinese athletes and others who won matches under the pressure of qualification for Rio. The athletes who competed here are now in a strong position to qualify for Rio and also, to have a singles winner here in Aaron McKibbin shows that we are in a strong position and ready to push on for next year.”

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McKibbin takes gold in China

Paralympic medalist Aaron McKibbin beat the Chinese World number two Ye Chao Qun to win gold in the men’s class 8 singles at the PTT China Open in Bejing today and there was further success for the GB Para Table Tennis team as Jack Hunter-Spivey took silver in men’s class 5.

Aaron McKibbin 4McKibbin, who won team bronze in London 2012, reached the semi-finals with a 3-0 win over Arufuahirokazu Tateishi from Japan and a 3-1 defeat of the former European champion Marcin Skrzynecki from Poland took him through to the final against Ye. The 24 year old Sheffield based Londoner produced a great performance to beat the former World champion 3-1 and help to secure his qualification for Rio next year.

“I’m very happy to get my first big result of the season,” said McKibbin. “Beating the Chinese in China is never easy but I think I played well and positively and I’m just happy to get the victory.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey 2Hunter-Spivey topped his group and a 3-1 win over the Spaniard Bilal El Baqqali Talibi in the quarter-finals took him through to a semi-final against the World number eight from Chinese Taipei Yen-Hung Lin. After losing a close first set the 20 year old from Liverpool took the next three 9, 10 and 13 to take him through to the final against Lin’s compatriot Ming Chih Cheng but the World number five was just too strong in a 3-1 win.

“I feel that my training is paying off and under pressure I feel like I’ve played very well,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I want to carry this form on into the team event now.”

In men’s class 10 Kim Daybell won all three of his group matches, including a 3-1 win over Kong Weijie from China, but was disappointed to lose a very close quarter final to the Sri Lankan Dinesh Deshappriya Pitiyage Don Silva 12-10 in the fifth after having two match points.

Gloucestershire teenager Billy Shilton was unlucky to lose out on countback in the group stages of men’s class 8 despite a battling 3-2 win over Skrzynecki while Sue Gilroy was unable to find her best form and finished fourth in the round robin women’s class 4 event with one win from her four matches.

The event continues with the team event that concludes on Tuesday.

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