Paralympic silver medalist and defending European champion Will Bayley heads the list of 13 athletes who will be representing GB in the European Para Table Tennis Championships at Lignano in Italy from September 28-October 5.
Fellow London 2012 medalists Paul Davies, Aaron McKibbin, Sara Head and Jane Campbell are also included in a squad that combines youth with experience and a great deal of ambition.
Sheffield based Bayley, from Tunbridge Wells, faces tough competition in the men’s class 7 event as 11 of the players currently ranked in the top 12 are from Europe, including the Paralympic champion Jochen Wollmert from Germany who beat Bayley in the final in London. The 25 year old has been involved in a duel for the number one ranking this season with Maxym Nikolenko from the Ukraine and is currently ranked number two in the world. He has already won gold medals in Italy and Slovenia this year and is looking forward to defending his title.
“Training has been going really well the last few weeks,” said Bayley, “and I feel that I am playing the best I have all season. I always seem to be able to peak for the big tournaments so I’m hoping that I can carry that on, push on next week and really do well. It will be tough and there will be no easy matches but I know what I have to do to win so I just want to do it again.”
Sara Head, from Beddau, and London-based Jane Campbell will be defending their European title in the women’s class 3 team event. The Paralympic bronze medalists have become a hard pair to beat and will both be looking for success in the singles as well as a successful defence of their team gold.
“It would mean the world to successfully defend our title,” said Head. “I still remember the feeling when we won gold two years ago so to win it again would make me ecstatic. We put pressure on ourselves because we want to do better and better and improve all the time and hopefully we can use the experience from London against the other teams in the Europeans. Training has been fantastic – we had a great training camp in Slovenia in August and I’m feeling really prepared and looking forward to going now.”
Paul Davies, from North Cornelly, won a memorable bronze medal in London in the men’s class 1 singles and has a singles silver in the Slovakian Open and team gold in Slovenia and Slovakia to his credit this season. He will be joined in the class 1 events by fellow Welshman and former rugby player Rob Davies, a double silver medalist in the European Championships in 2011 who has moved up to number five in the world rankings after good wins against top three players this year.
“Preparation has been going really well,” said Paul Davies. “I’ve had a bit of a break due to a slight injury but I’ve been back training this week and I’m feeling good and ready and I can’t wait until next week. If I can capitalise on what I did in London in the Europeans that would be a really good achievement; I’d like to come away with a medal in the singles and I’ve got a strong chance of a medal in the team event with my playing partner Rob (Davies). It’s all to do but all to gain.”
Londoner Aaron McKibbin, also based in Sheffield, won a men’s class 6-8 team bronze in London with Bayley and Ross Wilson. He took a singles bronze in Germany in June following a team gold in Slovenia a month before and will be hoping to improve on his fourth place in the European Championships in 2011.
“We’ve been training really hard and have put a lot into our preparation,” said McKibbin, so we’re looking forward to getting out there and for the competition to start now. I’ve got more experience of major championships now and I’m going in to the Europeans with an open mind. I want to perform my best and I feel I’m in quite good shape. I’ll just take every match at a time, play my best and see where it takes me.”
David Wetherill (class 6), Paul Karabardak (class 7), medical student Kim Daybell (class 10) and former Commonwealth champion Sue Gilroy (class 4) were all part of the GB team in London 2012 and the European Championships squad is completed by three promising young players Jack Hunter-Spivey (class 5), Ashley Facey Thompson (class 9) and Felicity Pickard (class 6).
“We have had a good preparation for the European Championships,” said GB Performance Director, Gorazd Vecko. “Training has been going well and the athletes have been working very hard. It will be a tough competition as Europe has many of the top players in the world in all the classes we will be competing in and we have a young team but we will hope to use the experience of London 2012 and bring back some medals.”
The full squad is:
Will Bayley (Lives: Rotherham; Home town: Tunbridge Wells) – class 7
Jane Campbell (Lives: Clerkenwell, London) – class 3
Paul Davies (Lives: North Cornelly) – class 1
Rob Davies (Lives: Brecon) – class 1
Kim Daybell (Lives: Leeds; Home town: Sheffield) – class 10
Ashley Facey Thompson (Lives: Rotherham; home town: Stratford, London) – class 9
Sue Gilroy (Lives: Barnsley) – class 4
Sara Head (Lives: Beddau) – class 3
Jack Hunter-Spivey (Lives: Widnes) – class 5
Paul Karabardak (Lives: Swansea) – class 7
Aaron McKibbin (Lives: Rotherham; home town: Wandsworth, London) – class 8
Felicity Pickard (Lives: Burnley) – class 6
David Wetherill (Lives: Torpoint) – class 6
For further information, please contact the GB Para Table Tennis Team press officer Francesca Bullock on 07768 515841 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org