Bayley becomes first Paralympian in EIS Hall of Champions

World champion Will Bayley has become the first ever Paralympian to be inducted into the Hall of Champions at the English Institute of Sport – Sheffield (EIS Sheffield) in recognition of his sporting achievements.

Will Bayley EIS Hall of ChampionsA giant image of the 27-year-old Paralympian, who is currently preparing for Rio 2016, is now on display in the Hall of Champions alongside athletes such as Nick Matthew, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Kelly Holmes after it was unveiled at a celebration ceremony.

The Hall of Champions was opened by Lord Sebastian Coe in 2009 and features athletes who have trained at EIS Sheffield on their way to World or Olympic success.

“I’m so proud to join such an elite list of athletes and being the first ever Paralympian to join EIS Sheffield’s Hall of Champions makes it extra special,” said Bayley.

“Becoming World Champion and winning a medal at London 2012 are of course the highlights of my career so far but I still have a lot more I want to achieve.

“Seeing my name on the wall alongside such great sporting names will definitely give me a huge boost as I continue my preparations for Rio 2016.”

Lorenzo Clark, director of operations at the charity Sheffield City Trust (SCT), which operates EIS Sheffield, said: “Will Bayley is a true role model and is fully deserving of his place on the Hall of Champions.

“We’re extremely proud to be home to top athletes such as Will and provide world-class facilities to support and develop their careers.

“We wish him the best of luck in his preparations for Rio 2016 and hope he can return home with another medal.”

Silver lining for GB in Italy

The GB team picked up another three medals in the team event at the Lignano Master Open in Italy with silver medals for Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbin in the men’s class 8 event and Tom Matthews with his Hungarian partner Endre Major in men’s class 1 and a bronze for Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson in men’s class 10.

Wilson and McKibbin started their competition with a narrow 3-2 loss to Ukraine but a 3-0 win over a combined France and Germany team took them through to a quarter-final against the experienced Belgian pair of Marc Ledoux and Mathieu Loicq who had come through their group without dropping a set. An impressive 3-0 win earned the GB pair a place in the final and another chance to take on Ukraine but the world champion and world number one Viktor Didukh and his compatriot Ivan Mai proved just too strong again in a 3-1 win.

Ross Wilson portrait 1Nevertheless it was a really promising performance by the Sheffield based pair in their first team competition together for more than two years.

“It went really well,” said 19 year old Wilson. “It is great to have a silver medal at a factor 40 – there is definitely a difference in the level between factor 20 and factor 40 and it is just nice to finally be able to get back into one after such a long time away. I can now knuckle down in training and I know what I have to work on – this will give me a lot of motivation for the rest of the season.”

Aaron McKibbin Lignano 2014“It was a good result,” agreed McKibbin. “It’s great to be back playing with Ross and to get to a final in our first competition. I played better in the singles here than I did in Hungary and got to the quarters finals. Ross and I played well in the doubles and we can only get better.”

Matthews and Major lost a tight first match to world champions Korea 3-2 but a 3-2 win against Sylvio Keller from Switzerland and the Russian Dmitry Lavrov took them into the semi-final against Italy, bronze medalists in the European Championships in 2013.

With the tie level at 2-2 it came down to the final rubber between Matthews and Falco and the 22 year old from Aberdare showed great character and determination to fight back from 2-0 down to win 11-6 in the fifth and take his team into the final against Jae-kwan Cho and Ki-Won Nam of Korea. The Koreans are both world top ten players and their combined experience showed in a 3-0 win but Matthews has had a great competition, including a win over world number six Andrea Borgato in the singles, and was understandably delighted with his performance.

Tom Matthews Lignano 2014“It hasn’t really sunk in that I beat Borgato,” admitted Matthews. “The semi-final against Falco was hard work. At 2-0 down I just got my head back together and started to relax and play my game and it worked. This is definitely a step on again from Hungary – I controlled my nerves a bit more and I’m getting better all the time so I’m happy with that.”

Daybell and Facey Thompson progressed from their group in second place after wins over Japan and a combined team from Hungary and Ireland and a narrow 3-2 loss to France. They came through a quarter final against Igor Misztal from Poland and the Israeli Aviv Gordon 3-1 to set up a semi-final against the class 10 world number six Denislav Kodjabashev from Bulgaria and Filip Radovic from Montenegro but had to settle for bronze after a 3-1 loss.

Kim Daybell 6With Kodjabashev and Radovic going on to take the gold it was a creditable performance by the GB pair.

“It was a good start to the season,” said Leeds University medical student Daybell, “and overall it was a good performance. I lost in the semi-finals of the singles to Lukyjanov who had a really good tournament and beat all the top players and I still felt it was a really tight match. After my exams I’ll be able to train full time and I’m looking forward to that and seeing what kind of level I can get myself to. Ash had a really good competition and played well in the singles; he has shown great improvement and is competing with class ten players and I think a lot of teams will be scared to come up against us now.”

Ashley Facey Thompson action 2014 (2)Class nine player Facey Thompson, 20, had enjoyed a great win in the singles competition against the Ukrainian world number three and said: “To beat a player like Shchepanskyy in a factor 40 was definitely one of my best wins. I played better than in Hungary; I was more positive and I’m really happy with my performance here.”

Paul Karabardak just missed out on a medal in the team event with Martin Perry but was encouraged by his silver medal in the singles in his first factor 40 tournament in class 6.

“It was a tight match and I didn’t take my opportunities in the final,” said the Swansea player. “Simion played really well but I think I can play better and hopefully beat him next time we play. It would have been nice to have won the gold but it’s still quite pleasing to get silver in a factor 40.”

GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “We were without Will Bayley, Rob Davies and Paul Davies so to get eight medals in the first factor 40 of the season is very encouraging. It’s not all about medals in the first tournaments of the season and we can build on some great performances here. Ashley Facey Thompson beating Shchepanskyy was the result of the tournament for us; Tom Matthews beat the world number six Borgato and young Megan Shackleton, although she lost 3-2 against the world number 4, is going to be a top player in the next two or three years. We aim to have the players at their best for the major competition which this year is the Europeans in October and we know what we need to work on now over the next few weeks before the next tournaments in May.”

Posted in GB

Five singles medals for GB in Italy

Swansea’s Paul Karabardak narrowly failed to add the Lignano Master Open title to the Hungarian Open title he won last weekend, taking the silver medal in men’s class 6 today. On a good day for the GB team there were also bronze medals for Jane Campbell (class 3), Sue Gilroy (class 4), Jack Hunter-Spivey (class 5) and Kim Daybell (class 10).

Paul KarabardakKarabardak has grown in confidence since being reclassified as a class 6 athlete this year and he topped his group with a 3-0 win over Mars Gabdullin of Russia and a determined performance against Bobi Simion of Romania, clinching the match 12-10 in the fifth in a repeat of their final in Hungary. A 3-0 win against Vjekoslav Gregorovic of Croatia took him into a semi-final against Alexander Esaulov of Russia and he beat the world number nine 3-0 to set up a final against Simion. This time it was the Romanian who took the honours in four close sets 12-14, 12-10, 11-9, 12-10 and the Welshman had to settle for a well-deserved silver medal.

Jane Campbell 1Campbell beat the Korean Sun-ja Kim and came back from 2-1 down in a hard fought 3-2 win over Kezban Kakir of Turkey. A 3-1 loss to the Frenchwoman Fanny Bertand left her in second place in the group which sent her through to the knockout stages. A 3-1 win in the quarter final over Hatice Duman of Turkey took her into a semi-final against Michela Brunelli of Italy. After losing the first two games the Londoner came back to take the third but the world number seven held on to take the match 14-12 in the fourth.

Sue Gilroy 1Barnsley’s Gilroy topped her group with three wins out of three and a 3-1 quarter final win against Nada Matic of Serbia took her into a semi-final against her old adversary Borislava Peric-Rankovic in a repeat of their dramatic World Championship semi-final last year that Gilroy had won 3-2. Gilroy made a great start, taking a close first set 14-12, but the Serbian world number one came storming back to take the next three sets and the match 3-1.

Jack Hunter-Spivey 1Despite two losses in his group Jack Hunter-Spivey progressed to the knockout stages on countback. In the quarter-finals he faced the French world number seven Gregory Rosec who had not dropped a set in his three group matches but the 19 year old from Liverpool produced his best form to win 3-0 and go through to a semi-final against Ehab Fetir. It proved to be a great battle with Hunter-Spivey leading 2-1 but the Egyptian fighting back to take the match 11-9 in the fifth and go on to take the gold medal.

Kim Daybell 4Daybell came through his group comfortably with wins over the Brazilian Claudio Massad, Igor Misztal of Poland and Filip Radovic of Montenegro and then beat Nariaki Kakita of Japan 3-0 to set up a semi-final against Pavel Lukyjanov. The experienced Russian took a 2-0 lead and although Daybell fought back to take the third set 14-12 Lukyjanov clinched the match 12-10 in the fourth and went on to take the gold medal.

Although out of the medals Tom Matthews (class 1), Ross Wilson, Aaron McKibbin (class 8) and Ashley Facey Thompson (class 9) all came through their groups and reached the quarter finals.

Tom Matthews France 1Matthews started with a great 3-2 win against the world number eight Andrea Borgato from Italy and despite a narrow 3-2 loss to the experienced Sylvio Keller from Switzerland he progressed from the group to the quarter-finals. Another battling performance against the Korean Ki Won Nam just failed to take him into his first factor 40 semi-final as the world number ten came back from 2-1 down to take the match 11-6 in the fifth. It was nevertheless a great performance by the Welshman who is improving all the time.

Ross Wilson action 6 2014Sheffield based Wilson’s world ranking has dropped from two in 2012 to 16 after a two year absence through injury but the 19 year old from Minster is determined to make up for lost time and 3-0 wins against the Belgian Marc Ledoux, Marius Olczak of Poland and the Russian Artem Lakovlev took him through to a last 16 match against another Russian Aleksei Saunin. A 3-0 win earned him a quarter final against Piotr Grudzien but the world number six from Poland proved too strong in a 3-0 win.

Aaron McKibbin 2Sheffield based McKibbin also came through his group with wins against Mathieu Loicq of Belgium, Aleksei Saunin and the Norwegian Steffen Salomonsen. His reward for a 3-1 win in the last 16 against Niklas Andersson of Sweden was a quarter-final against world champion Victor Didukh and the Ukrainian world number one was always in command in a 3-0 win.

Ashley Facey Thompson France 1Facey Thompson started with a tremendous 3-2 win over the world number three Yuriy Shchepanskyy, holding his nerve to win 11-9 in the fifth after the Ukrainian three time European champion had come back to level the match at 2-2. Another tough match against Koyo Iwabuchi of Japan in which Facey Thompson fought back from 2-0 down to win 11-5 in the fifth gave him a bye into the quarter-finals as group winner but the 20 year old Londoner lost out 3-1 to Frederic Bellais of France who went on to win the gold medal.

The tournament continues with the team event that concludes on Saturday.

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Tough test ahead for GB Team in Italy

Sue Gilroy 1The GB Para Table Tennis Team faces its first big test of 2015 at this week’s Lignano Master Open in Italy, the first factor 40 tournament of the season that starts on Wednesday. Paul Karabardak and teenagers Megan Shackleton and Billy Shilton, gold medalists from last weekend’s Hungarian Open, are among the 13 strong squad that also includes World silver medalist Sue Gilroy.

GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko is hoping to build on the successful start to the season in Hungary.

“The Lignano Master Open is always a tough competition,” he said, “and with the exception of the Chinese most of the top players in the world will be there. We will be without Will Bayley and Rob Davies who are both recovering from minor injuries but we have some talented young players and Italy will show us where we stand against the rest of the world and how much work we need to do before the European Championships in October.”

The players representing GB at the Lignano Master Open are:

GB Performance Squad:
Jane Campbell (London) – Class 3
Kim Daybell (Sheffield/Leeds) – Class 10
Ashley Facey Thompson (London/Sheffield) – Class 9
Sue Gilroy (Barnsley) – Class 4
Sara Head (Bedwyn) – 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
Ross Wilson (Minster/Sheffield) – Class 8

GB Pathway Squad:
Tom Matthews (Aberdare) – Class 1
Martin Perry (Paisley) – Class 6
Billy Shilton (Stonehouse) – Class 7

Follow the GB Para Table Tennis Team on Twitter @gbparatt

Posted in GB

Second gold for Karabardak in Hungary

Hungary medalistsSwansea Paralympian Paul Karabardak won his second gold medal at the Hungarian Open, combining with 16 year old Billy Shilton to win the men’s class 6-7 team event. Megan Shackleton added a team silver (women’s class 1-5) to her singles gold, Tom Matthews followed his singles bronze with a team silver (men’s class 1) and Ashley Facey Thompson took a team bronze (men’s class 9-10) with his partner Nathan Thomas.

Paul Karabardak action 4 2014Karabardak and Shilton topped their group with wins against the Netherlands and Russia and survived a tough battle against Japan in the semi-finals, Shilton clinching the tie with a 3-1 victory over Hiromoto Kita. In the final against a combined team from Croatia and Korea it was Karabardak who won the deciding match, beating Jae Jin Kim of Korea 3-0 to take the gold.

“I played OK,” said Karabardak, “although not my best. I had to grind out wins which made it difficult but I managed it so I’m pleased with that.”

“My form in the singles was up-and-down,” admitted Shilton. “I think I played my best in the semi-finals and I was very happy with that.”

Shackleton and her playing partners Alena Kanova from Slovakia and the Israeli Chagit Yona Brill also came through their group with two wins and beat a combined Italian/Austrian team in the semi-finals 3-1. Despite the experience of former World champion Kanova they lost 3-1 to Korea in the final but 15 year old Shackleton is learning all the time and is a great prospect for the future.

“I played well,” said Shackleton, “as there were a lot of distractions in the hall. I feel that I have improved a lot since France and I am controlling my nerves a lot better.”

Tom Matthews Lignano 2014The men’s class 1 team event was played in a round-robin format and Matthews combined with Federico Falco from Italy to beat a combined team from Korea and Russia 3-1 and enjoyed a walkover against Korea. A very close 3-2 defeat in the doubles against Hungary was the turning point in a 3-1 loss which left them in second place at the end of the competition and earned them a silver medal.

“I played quite well,” said Matthews, “although the nerves still take over at times. I’ve definitely improved over the winter so I’m happy with that.”

Facey Thompson and self-funding GB player Thomas topped their group with wins against Norway/Russia and Austria/Hungary but they had to be content with the bronze after losing 3-2 to Italy in the semi-final. Despite a battling 3-2 win by Facey Thompson over Lorenzo Cordua which levelled the tie at 2-2, the deciding match went to Italy with impressive newcomer Mohamed Aline Kalem proving too strong for Thomas in a 3-0 win.

“It’s been an up-and-down tournament for me,” said Facey Thompson. “I didn’t play my best but I tried hard.”

New stars emerge at National Championships

Liverpool teenager Jack Hunter-Spivey fought back from 1-2 down in the final of the Men’s Wheelchair Open event at the Butterfly Michael Hawkesworth Championships (BTTAD National Championships) in Bristol to beat defending champion Kevin Plowman 3-2 and add the Open title to the Class 5 title he had won the previous day. Paralympic bronze medalist Sara Head took the Ladies’ Wheelchair Open title and Bristol Academy player Rajan Waterman won the Men’s Open Standing title.

Jack Hunter-Spivey action 4 2014Hunter-Spivey was avenging his defeat by Plowman in last year’s final and looked in trouble at 1-2 down but ran away with the fourth game and then held on to win 11-7 in the fifth.

“I’ve played quite well at this tournament,” said Hunter-Spivey, “not my best table tennis but I fought through and that is the main thing. I changed my tactics at the end of the third game – his cross over is different to other players as he plays with a different rubber. It means everything for me to be National Champion – I’m British through and through and it was great to beat Kevin having lost to him in the final last year.”

Sara Head Nat Champs 2015Head defeated World championship silver medalist Sue Gilroy to take the Ladies Wheelchair Open title and was delighted with her performance after an interrupted preparation to the new season due to illness.

“I’m really surprised that I’ve played so well here,” she said. “It’s been a difficult winter but in a way that has made me more determined. It means the world to me to be National champion.”

Gilroy won the Class 4 Singles title and the Wheelchair Doubles with her coach Arnie Chan.

“The National Championships have always been important to me,” said Gilroy, “and I really enjoyed playing in the mixed doubles with Arnie and winning it. We don’t play together normally but had some really good matches. My training has gone really well this winter and I am looking forward to playing in Italy this week.”

Waterman took full advantage of the absence of Class 10 Singles winner Kim Daybell on the Sunday to win the Men’s Open Standing title, withstanding a strong challenge from 16 year old Lawrence John in the final. The two players had met in the semi-finals of the Class 10 Singles on Saturday with Waterman edging it 11-9 in the fifth and it was a similar story in the Open final with John fighting back to level at 2-2 but the greater experience of Waterman helping him to clinch the match 11-7 in the fifth.

“I started well but Lawrence came back strongly,” said Waterman. “I looked across at my coach in the fifth and that spurred me on and I’m very happy to win a National title. Bristol Academy has given me so much support so it’s the perfect place to do it.”

Despite his narrow defeat it was a successful weekend for John, from Swansea, winning the Junior Class 6-10 Singles and the trophy for Player of the Tournament.

Shae Thakker Nat Champs 2015With a number of the GB Performance Team competing in Hungary or absent due to injury this year’s Championships provided a chance for some of the young, up-and-coming players to shine, including 11 year old Shae Thakker, who was runner-up to John in the Junior Class 6-11 Singles, reached the semi-finals of the Class 10 Singles and won the John Hardcastle Cup for Junior Player of the Tournament.

Also among the winners were Daniel Bullen (Junior Class 1-5 Singles), Craig Allen (Class 9 Singles), Kevin Plowman (Class 1-3 Singles), David Wetherill (Class 6 Singles and Standing Doubles with Kim Daybell), Alex Bland (Class 7 Singles), Paul Waumsley (Class 8 Singles) and Adam Thompson (Class 11 Singles).

Two golds for GB in Hungary

Medal presentation for the women's class 4-5 singles in which Megan Shackleton took gold

Medal presentation for the women’s class 4-5 singles in which Megan Shackleton took gold

Todmorden teenager Megan Shackleton (class 4-5) and Swansea’s Paul Karabardak (class 6) struck gold in Hungary today and on a good day for the GB Para Table Tennis Team Ross Wilson took silver (class 8) and there were bronze medals for Billy Shilton (class 7) and Tom Matthews (class 1).

Karabardak was reclassified at the start of the tournament from class 7 to class 6 and the 29 year old came through his group with wins over Michael Jensen of Denmark and the Japanese player Junki Itai to set up a semi-final against Mars Gabdullin from Russia. A 3-1 win took him into the final against Bobi Simion from Romania and he showed great character to fight back from 1-2 down to take the gold 11-8 in the fifth.

Shackleton topped her group after 3-0 wins against Jelena Sisic from Croatia and the Romanian Dorina Vargatu and then won her semi-final against Monique Sirgant from France 3-1 to reach the final. Despite losing a tight third game against the Austrian Helke Koller 14-12 the 15 year old fought back to level the match at 2-2 and then took the deciding game 11-4 to take the gold.

Sheffield based Wilson, from Minster in Kent, was playing in only his second competition since taking a bronze medal in London 2012 and came through his group impressively with 3-0 wins against Zborai (Hungary), Berthier (France) and Wassink (Netherlands). The 19 year old then defeated the Ukrainian Ivan Mai 3-0 in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final against Andras Csonka, the world number five from Hungary. After dropping the first game he came back to win the next three and book his place in the final against Linus Karlsson. The Swedish player was formerly class 10 and has moved from class 9 to 8 this year and although Wilson twice fought back to level the match Karlsson clinched the deciding game 11-6 to take the gold.

Shilton, 16, from Stonehouse in Gloucestershire, finished second in his group, losing only one match to the Japanese Katsuyoshi Yagi, and fought back hard to win the second game 18-16 and level his semi-final match against Anikanov. But the Russian, who has been reclassified this season from class 8 to 7, used his greater experience to take the next two games and clinch his place in the final and went on to take the gold medal.

A great win against world number seven Jae-kwan Cho from Korea and a 3-0 win over Janos Kaiser from Hungary sent Matthews into the knockout stages as group winner and gave him a bye into the semi-finals against another Hungarian Endre Major. The Welshman never really got into the match in a 3-0 loss but this was nevertheless an improved performance by the 22 year old former mountain bike rider.

Sheffield based London athletes Aaron McKibbin (class 8) and Ashley Facey Thompson (class 9) reached the quarter finals, McKibbin losing 3-0to French world number 8 Thomas Bouvais and Facey Thompson going down 3-1 to the home favourite and world number 13 Dezso Bereczki.

Self-funding GB athlete Nathan Thomas reached the final of the men’s class 10 singles after a 3-0 win over the Hungarian Bela Szigeti in the semi-finals and although he was no match for Krisztian Gardos from Austria in the final he picked up a well-deserved silver medal.

The tournament continues with the team competition that concludes tomorrow.

Posted in GB

Live Stream Link for Butterfly Michael Hawkesworth Championships 14/15 March

The Butterfly Michael Hawkesworth National Table Tennis Championships (Nationals for BTTAD) starts Saturday 14th March 2015 in Bristol. The tournament will be streamed live from 10:30am GMT (UK Time) on Saturday on youtube. Then 09:30 am (UK Time) Sunday.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BristolTTAcademy

The live stream will show just before the matches are due to start.

Don’t miss out on the action !!!

 

Great exhibition by Shilton in Brazil

GB Pathway player Billy Shilton put up a great performance on his recent trip to Brazil when he beat fellow class 7 player and home favourite Paulo Salmin 3-2 in an exhibition match in Piracicaba that was shown live on national Brazilian television.

Billy Shilton and Gorazd Vecko Brazil 2015The 16 year old held his nerve superbly to win 11-9 in the fifth and clearly relished the experience.

“Brazil was fantastic,” he said, “everyone was really friendly and it’s a really nice country. Playing in front of a big crowd was very nerve racking but a great experience and something I will never forget. I was really nervous in the fifth as the Brazilian fans were going crazy when I was 10-8 up. I was so happy to win as I felt I made a big improvement from losing to him 3-0 in Slovenia last year. This will give me confidence for the season ahead and I cannot wait to play!”

Important year ahead for GB Team

The GB team begins the vital qualification season for the 2016 Paralympic Games this week with seven players competing in the Hungarian Open (March 13-15). Paralympic medalists Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbin (class 8) will be joined by fellow Paralympian Paul Karabardak (class 7), Ashley Facey Thompson (class 9), Megan Shackleton (class 4) and Pathway Squad members, Billy Shilton (class 7) and Tom Matthews (class 1).

Wilson and McKibbin won Paralympic team bronze with Will Bayley in London 2012 and both hope that experience will help them as the build up to Rio intensifies.

Ross Wilson action 6 2014“Before London I was a bit nervous about trying to qualify and it was always on my mind that I wasn’t going to get there,” admitted Wilson. “But this time around I want to get my spot back at the top of the world rankings and achieve more than just qualifying for Rio.”

Wilson returned last October from a two year absence due to injury to win gold in the men’s class 8 singles in France and the 19 year old, who was world ranked number two before his injury, has his sights firmly set on Rio and this year’s European Championships.

“Winning in France was definitely a boost,” Wilson admitted, “but I think more than anything it has motivated me even more to win tournaments. I’m excited and ready to be part of the team again because I have missed that. It’s been a while since I was part of a full strength GB squad at a competition so I’m looking forward to that.”

Aaron McKibbin 2“For me it is key to try and approach this year the same as other years,” said 23 year old McKibbin, “as if you try and build it up the pressure can become too much. It is everyone’s goal this season to qualify for Rio and the year before London there was definitely more of a buzz around the circuit so I’m looking forward to the season starting now.”

Despite some good wins against higher ranked opponents last year he has struggled with consistency and knows that is the key to improving his current world ranking of 13.

“I’ve shown I have the level to play against the top players,” he said, “but the better players maintain their level and that is where I struggle as my form dips too often. So finding a way to keep my level high is hopefully going to take me to where I want to be. It is partly a mental thing but also down to playing at that level all the time in training and for it to feel normal which is slowly starting to happen. I feel that I am playing more quality day in and day out which is the way I need to go to be able to play at a high level in matches.”

Paul KarabardakSwansea’s Karabardak represented GB in both the Beijing and London Paralympic Games and won a bronze medal in the team event at the World Championships in China last September.

“Training has been going well,” said the 29 year old, “and I’m playing at a good level so I’m pleased with that. The main things I need to improve on are my confidence and self-belief and also my fitness – I’ve been working hard in the gym and also with the team psychologist which has helped and hopefully I can take that into these competitions.

“It’s a tough year because everyone wants to go to Rio – it’s always the toughest year on the calendar trying to qualify for the Paralympics but it’s a nice year to be a part of as it’s very exciting. The Paralympics is one of the biggest events in the world so it’s very special.”

Ashley Facey Thompson France 1Facey Thompson, 20, showed great improvement last season and finished with a bronze medal in the men’s class 9 singles at the Cote d’Azur International in October.

“That bronze medal helped me a lot,” he said, “and I have a lot of confidence going into the new season. Training has been going well – I’ve been working on my movement which is improving slowing but getting better. I feel so much more comfortable in my game and I feel that each match I go into I have a chance.”

Having missed out on qualification for the Paralympics in 2012 he experienced some of the atmosphere in London as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme.

“I was gutted that I didn’t get to London,” he admitted, “but the PIP inspired me a lot and has made me strive to get to Rio.”

Megan Shackleton France 2014Last year was a breakthrough year for Shackleton, winning her first singles medal in Romania in June and then finishing the season with two gold medals in the Cote d’Azur International in France.

“France has given me a lot of confidence for this year when the results are really going to matter,” said the 15 year old. “Last year I was able to put in some good performances and hopefully I can maintain that into the new season. I’ve had a good winter’s training and I’ve been working on my fitness and making sure my stamina is good in matches which will hopefully help me this season. I’ve also been working with the team psychologist making sure I’m mentally prepared for all my matches and the things I’ll be facing in different countries and different environments.”

Billy Shilton France 1Having won his first singles medal in Spain and finished last season with a second team gold medal at the Cote d’Azur International in France 16 year old Shilton is hoping for more medals this season and a rise up the world rankings from his current position of 25.

“Winning gold in France has made me more confident and I believe in myself more now,” he said. “I know I can do it and I just need to work hard and hopefully my form from France can continue into this year. I want to try and win another singles medal and get out of my group in a factor 40 as I haven’t done that yet. I also want to compete in the Europeans in October which would be my first major championships.”

Tom Matthews France 1Matthews, from Aberdare, is aiming to reach his first Paralympic Games but after an up-and-down season in 2014 he is focusing on making improvements to his game and winning more matches.

“Training has been going really well,” he said, “we’ve been working on touch play, spinning the ball on a bit and coming up with a bit more variation in play so I have more than one plan when I go into a match. My new chair means I can move around a lot more and reach short balls now. Rio is at the back of my mind but I’m focused on the next competition and I’m going to take it match by match rather than thinking about a big goal. Everyone in the squad is excited by Rio and it’s always the main goal to get to a Paralympics.”

The 22 year old was a promising mountain bike rider before an accident left him wheelchair bound at the age of 16 and is thriving on the challenge that his new sport brings.

“Some people say table tennis is easy but it really isn’t,” he said. “Before my accident I would never have thought of doing table tennis but now I love it – it’s so competitive even in training. The competitive background I had in cycling is back and I’m really enjoying it.”

GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “It is important for the GB players to compete at the National Championships but the players we are taking to Hungary need to play in as many international tournaments as possible to give them the best chance of qualifying for the Paralympic Games in 2016. Our athletes need to qualify by the end of this year so it is a massively important season and we also have the European Championships in Denmark in October, which will be the last major event for the team before Rio.”