Paralympic Gold and a Blue Peter badge

It’s a sweltering hot morning in Rio and it is a relief to get to Riocentro3 where the air conditioning is thankfully on. There are now only six tables in the hall as two have been removed to make way for the podium for the medal ceremonies.

will-parents-in-t-shirtsBBC Radio 5 Live are here to cover Will and Sue’s matches today and we get the good news that Will’s final is to be shown live on Channel 4 back in the UK. Will’s parents are here in their Will Bayley T-shirts and one can only imagine how nervous they must be.

The first medal matches are for men’s class 5 and the German Valentin Baus is thwarted in his attempt to add the Paralympic crown to his World title by Cao Ningning from China. Can Will succeed where Baus failed?

All the GB team has come out to cheer on Will and he looks determined and focused as he enters the hall with his Brazilian opponent Israel Stroh. The first set is close but Will edges it – first blood to Will. Stroh comes back in the second with some stunning forehand winners to which Will has no answer and it is 1-1.

willvstrohAs a shout of ‘Let’s go GB, Let’s Go’ rings out the home crowd start chanting ‘Braa-zeel’ and the battle in the stands becomes as competitive as the battle on the table. The GB supporters may be smaller in number but they make up for that with their enthusiasm and manage to cancel out any advantage Stroh had been hoping for from his home crowd.

The third set has more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel as each player tries to wrestle control away from the other. With Stroh continuing to question Will’s serving technique the tension between the two starts to increase and as Will recovers from 2-4 to 5-4 Stroh’s coach calls a time out. Whatever the coaches say to the players it results in Will and Stroh hugging each other before they continue with the set.

Stroh appears to have the advantage at 9-7 but as Will wins the next four points to take the vital third set and a 2-1 lead chants of ‘Bayley!’ from the GB team echo around the hall.

Will has struck a major blow but we cannot relax yet. Stroh has shown time and again at this tournament that he is a great competitor but his dream of taking gold at his home Games is slipping away just as it did for Will four years ago in London.

bayley-william-john-grb-5-hugging-umpireGB excitement mounts as the pressure seems to be telling on Stroh and he starts to make mistakes. Will leads 7-3, 7-4, 8-4, 9-4, 10-4 and he has six match points. Surely this must be it? Thankfully for our nerves it is and after taking the final point he needs Will climbs on to the table to salute the crowd. His impromptu celebration earns him a yellow card from the umpire to which he responds by giving her a hug before jumping into the arms of his coach Gorazd.

“I gave the umpire a hug because she was a bit uptight and I wanted to calm her down,” says Will afterwards. “I didn’t plan anything but when I won I thought I should do something but it was probably a rubbish celebration. If I did it now I probably wouldn’t be able to get on the table but it was the adrenalin that helped me jump on the table – I’ve never moved so fast in my life.”

Martine is waiting to interview him for Channel 4 and Johnny Vegas appears to give Will a celebratory hug. Brazilian TV also want to interview him and there is a touching scene in the mixed zone as Will and Stroh, both draped in their national flags, share a few words and a hug.

Will holds court in the mixed zone as the British press have turned out in force to watch his match and now want his reaction. He is a natural with the media and as they fire questions at him he handles it all with aplomb. He is asked whether his friends will now get him a gold postbox, having covered one in tinfoil when he won silver in London.

“I must get a gold postbox,” he says. “I missed out in London and got a tinfoil postbox so it would be nice to get a proper gold one.”

sue-gilroy-v-matic-2Meanwhile Sue has started her bronze medal match and has made a good start against the Serbian Nada Matic by taking the first set. When she takes the second as well we dare to hope that she is finally going to achieve her dream of a Paralympic medal but as the third set slips away and then the fourth we start to fear that Matic has taken control of the match.

Fifth set and winner takes all – in this case a bronze medal. Matic takes a 6-1 lead and when Sue reduces the deficit to 6-4 her coach calls a time out. It works as the Serbian moves to 10-5 and although Sue saves one match point a service error means that Matic takes the bronze.

Sue is bitterly disappointed but can be very proud of her performance at these Games.

will-interview-itvHaving spoken to all the media at Riocentro Will is taken to British House where there are a number of non-rights holding TV crews waiting to interview him and the result is that he will be the main sports story on both BBC and ITV News at 10 tonight. After his interview with BBC Newsround Will is presented with a Blue Peter badge, which he greets with almost as much enthusiasm as his gold medal.

Interviews over he heads to a nearby restaurant for dinner with his family and friends, including Gorazd who has been such a major influence on Will’s career since taking over the GB Performance Squad in 2009.

The day’s events are starting to catch up with Will who suddenly looks exhausted. As he heads back to the Athletes’ Village for a good night’s sleep he is already thinking about the team competition that starts on Wednesday and his pride in the rest of the GB Team is evident.

“We are a strong team,” he says. “It is not just me – we’ve got other players who can beat the best players in the world. We are Lion hearts – we are determined and we’ve trained so hard so the whole GB team deserves a lot of respect.”

Amen to that.