Date and place of birth: 14/08/84, Abergavenny
Home town: Brecon
Family: Parents Sandra and Charlie, twin brother Rich
TT Class: 1
Current world ranking: 1
TT Style: attacking
International debut: 2007, Ireland
Major titles: Paralympic champion 2016; European champion 2013/2015; European team champion 2013/2015
Rio 2016 was a dream come true for the pride of Brecon and he laid the ghost of London 2012 when he became men’s class 1 Paralympic champion.
Born and bred in Wales, Rob played semi-professional rugby until a spinal cord injury while playing left him wheelchair-bound at the age of 21. In a bizarre twist of fate, at the same time that Rob was injured his twin brother Rich was involved in a serious car accident on the way to the match but went on to make a full recovery.
While undergoing rehab at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff, Rob was encouraged to take up table tennis by Para table tennis international Sara Head, who was doing voluntary work at the hospital.
“I’d always been sporting,” says Rob. “I’d played rugby since I was four years old and never had an injury until then. I’d always seen table tennis as a bit of a girly sport compared to rugby so I wasn’t that helpful to begin with. My grandparents pushed me and I started training with the guys in Wales and that was it. When I left hospital I started training two or three times a week.”
In 2007 he became part of the GB Development squad and after taking silver medals in the individual and team events at the European championships in 2011 realised his ambition of competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. He admits that London was a massive learning curve and although he enjoyed the experience he was disappointed to come away without a medal, losing a vital group match to the then World number one Jean-Francois Ducay from France 3-2.
“I didn’t expect to win a medal as much as I wanted one at a home Games,” he explained at the start of 2013, “and I was pretty gutted for a few months. But it has made me more determined and I’m training so much harder – I’m wiser now. I’m stronger and faster and more positive towards life in general. London has given me a boost and I’m going to push myself a bit more now.”
Rob’s aim for 2013 was to improve his consistency and his world ranking of six and he achieved even more than he had hoped for – defeating Ducay and Paralympic champion Holger Nikelis on his way to becoming European champion, taking gold in the team event as well with fellow Welshman Paul Davies and replacing Nikelis as world number one in October.
“It was a brilliant year and I achieved more than I thought I would,” he admitted. “Being world number one doesn’t seem real which is probably for the best. Sometimes I reassure myself with it when I’m not feeling very confident but I want to keep working hard and try and stay there.”
Rob began 2014 by taking gold in singles and team in Slovenia and came back from losing to Ducay in the singles in Slovakia to take gold in the team event with Paul Davies. In the World Championships in China he showed all his fighting spirit to reach the final of the men’s class 1 singles but had to settle for silver after a 3-1 loss to the Korean Changho Lee.
“I wanted the gold but I’m happy to get silver,” he said. “It was good to get to the final – there are so many good players here and I had a tough draw with some players that are awkward for me to play against so I was quite glad to come through those. You’ve got to take one match at a time and I just wish I had played a bit better in the final and finished it off with a bang but that is sport and that is table tennis. I’ll come back from it and hopefully get the next title.”
Rob did just that in 2015, coming back from a few disappointing results earlier in the season to successfully defend his European singles title in Denmark beating old rival and the current World number one Jean-Francois Ducay in the final.
“I didn’t really think about retaining my title but I’m over the moon,” said Rob. “I’ve really struggled over the past two years trying to keep on top of injuries and I came here with a massive cold and felt like rubbish this morning so I couldn’t be happier to be honest.”
With Paul Davies absent due to injury Rob had a new team partner in another Welshman Tom Matthews and the pair took gold in the round-robin team event to crown a successful competition for Rob.
“I’m really happy to retain both titles,” he said. “I’m very happy with the way I’m playing. I feel more at ease with myself and a bit more confident at the moment and going into next year that can only be good. I’ve just got to take it to the other continents now and try and beat the Koreans and whoever else comes our way as well as the Europeans.”
In December 2015 Rob regained the World number one ranking in men’s class 1 and he beat Paralympic champion Nikelis in the semi-finals on his way to winning gold in the Slovenia Open in May 2016.
“I’m happy and excited to get to Rio now,” he said in August 2016. “I didn’t know what to expect in London and it was such a huge event but I know what to expect this time and I’m just excited for the opportunity of getting there now. My preparation has been a lot better this time and I’m in a completely different place to where I was in London – I’ve got to use the disappointment of the loss there to fire myself up. I don’t want to be in that position again. I’m looking forward to going out there and making it a different ending this time.”
In Rio Rob came through two tough group matches 3-2 to win his group and after defeating old rival Ducay in the quarter-finals and the Hungarian Endre Major in the semi-finals he beat the Korean Young Dae Joo in the final 3-1 to take Paralympic gold.
“At end of the second set I just kept mentally strong,” said Rob. “He’d beaten me twice and it is such a confidence boost to come here and beat him on the big stage. It was a really great match and I knew I was going to have to play my best today and thankfully that was what I did.”
At the end of 2016 Rob received an MBE in the New Year Honours List.
Rugby is still a passion of Rob’s and he goes to watch his local side play whenever he can as well as being a keen supporter of the Welsh team. “I still miss it,” he admits. “I do wheelchair rugby now for fun but I wanted a different challenge – rugby is a team sport and I could see table tennis was different and wanted to challenge myself.”
Away from the table Rob enjoys weight training and getting out and about in the countryside on his off-road buggy, accompanied by his terrier Roger. This year is already an auspicious one as in July he will marry his fiancee Meg.
Take 5 with Rob:
Most admired sportsman – Jonny Wilkinson
Three famous people you would most like to have a drink with – Freddie Flintoff, Jonathan Davies, Charlie Sheen
Place in the world you would most like to visit – New Zealand for the rugby culture, amazing scenery and weather
Favourite film – Top Gun
Three words that describe you best- happy, busy, committed
and finally – the sporting event that Rob would most like a ticket for is Wales v England in the Rugby World Cup Final
Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – gold, men’s singles (class 1); QF, men’s teams (class 1-2)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 1); bronze, men’s teams (class 1)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1); silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1); QF men’s singles (class 1)
Slovenia Open – silver, men’s singles (class 1); bronze, men’s teams (class 1)
World Championships, Beijing, China – silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – gold men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
2016: Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
2015: European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1)
2014: World Championships, Beijing, China – silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – gold men’s teams (class 1)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
2013: Belgium Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
European Championships, Lignano, Italy – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
2012: Slovakian Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1); gold, men’s teams (class 1)
2011: European Championships, Split, Croatia – silver, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)
British Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
Further results are available at: http://www.ipttc.org/players/men/robert_davies/index.htm