It’s our final day of competition in Rio and we have one last roll of the dice. After the disappointment of losing yesterday’s semi-final to Ukraine, Aaron, Ross and Will must pick themselves up and come back into the hall to fight for a bronze medal but they face the table tennis equivalent of climbing Everest as their opponents are class 8 World team champions China.
We know that the boys will give it everything but it was a tough loss yesterday and the Chinese team includes World number two and double Paralymic champion Zhao Shuai, World number four Ye Chao Qun and the former World number three Sun Churen.
The match is due to start at 12:00 but it is delayed by a great battle for the bronze in men’s class 4-5 between China (who else?) and Turkey. Finally, Ali Ozturk takes the deciding singles against Cao NingNing 3-2 and the Turkish team celebrate a famous victory. Can our boys do the same?
The athletes enter the hall for the men’s class 6-8 medal matches – Sweden and Ukraine are playing for gold and silver but the only match that really matters (if you are a GB supporter) is on table 4 – GB v China.
Yesterday Aaron and Ross gave Ukraine a 2-0 start in the doubles but they are clearly determined not to make the same mistake today and make a flying start – taking the first set 11-7 with some clever play. The second is much closer but Aaron and Ross keep their noses in front and edge it 11-9 with a great forehand from Ross which he greets with a roar and a fist pump.
Zhao and Ye are an experienced pair and do what they need to do – take the third set and then the fourth to level at 2-2 – and at 0-2 in the fifth coach Greg calls a time out. With chants of ‘GB! GB!’ ringing out around Riocentro3 Aaron and Ross return to the table and after levelling at 3-3 they pull ahead to 8-5. Time out for China and they then level at 8-8.
Our hopes of the bronze hinge on winning the doubles but China take the next point to lead 9-8 before GB come back to level at 9-9 after a great rally. Zhao is bouncing on his toes like a boxer but he nets his return off a short serve to give our boys match point and thankfully they take it as Will and Greg leap to their feet in celebration.
So the first part of the climb has been safely negotiated but there is still a long way to go.
Ross and Aaron leave the hall for a short break and then Ross starts the first singles against Zhao. Ross has had so many injury problems since he made such an impact in London as a 17 year old but his character and determination have never been in doubt and after losing the first set he pushes Zhao all the way in the second before the Paralympic champion takes it 11-9. Back comes Ross in the third and from 4-4 he moves to 8-4 keeping the ball short and getting the error from Zhao.
The ‘Rossie Posse’ are getting into their stride and begin a chant of ‘Super, Super Ross, Super Rossie Wilson’ and Ross responds by taking the set 11-6. At 3-5 in the third Ross wins a great rally after Zhao nets but the Chinese player uses all his experience to close out the set 11-6 and take the match 3-1.
So all our hopes now rest on Aaron as he takes on Sun Churen. The two last met in the World Championships in 2014 when Sun won in four close sets so it is going to be tough but Aaron starts well, taking the first set 11-6 when his return catches the edge of the table off a wide serve by Sun. There is never more than a couple of points between the two in the second set but Sun takes it 11-9 after a great rally that ends when Aaron nets: 1-1.
Aaron recovers quickly and as he reaches 6-3 in the third the Chinese coach calls time out but it favours Aaron and he takes the set impressively 11-3: 2-1 to GB.
The fourth is another close affair but at 7-7 Aaron goes long and then nets a service return to hand the initiative to Sun and the left-hander takes the set 11-9 to level at 2-2.
After so many great matches over the past 10 days it is perhaps fitting that this one goes down to the wire as well but if you are a GB supporter it is stretching the nerves to breaking point. This has been such a great performance by the boys – can Aaron hold his nerve and bring home a third medal for GB?
He starts well and at 4-0 the ‘Rossie Possie’ are now chanting ‘Go Aaron McKibbin’. Sun blocks the ball and Aaron goes long and Sun reduces the deficit to 4-3 but Aaron keeps a slight advantage and an edge takes him to 8-5. He goes long on the next point and again on the next and with the score at 9-9 we can hardly bear to watch.
10-9 and Aaron has match point but he misses with his forehand: 10-10. Come on Aaron – you deserve this. Another match point and this time Aaron wins the rally and he drops his bat and turns to Ross, Will and Greg scarcely able to believe that he has done it.
Afterwards Aaron reveals: “I went to bed last night and said it would be great if I won 12-10 in the fifth tomorrow, so when it came to 10-10 in the fifth I thought maybe it was meant to be.”
If only we had known that we had nothing to worry about.
A delighted Martine is here from Channel 4 again to interview the boys and it is a much easier task than after yesterday’s semi-final when they had been so despondent. What a difference a day makes.
Prize giving over Aaron and Ross head off to spend time with their very proud families while Will and Rob have a date with Channel 4’s The Last Leg. They are accompanied by Jack, David, Paul Davies and Sue who are in the audience while Will and Rob are interviewed. It’s a fun end to an emotional day and a successful finish to the Paralympic table tennis for GB. The boys have conquered their Everest and can now look to Tokyo.