Paralympians Aaron McKibbin, Kim Daybell and Jack Hunter-Spivey came out on top in the round-robin Para classes at the PG Mutual National Championships today in Nottingham.
The key match in men’s class 6-8 proved to be the clash between class 8 Paralympic team bronze medallist McKibbin and men’s class 7 Paralympic champion Will Bayley. In a high-quality match, Bayley fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 before McKibbin finally clinched a tense final set 16-14 to win the match. Bayley kept himself in contention by beating Billy Shilton 3-1 and David Wetherill 3-0 but McKibbin, having beaten David Wetherill 3-0, made sure of the gold by beating his 18-year-old class 8 teammate Shilton 3-1.
“Obviously we play each other all the time and it is always close,” said McKibbin. “Will and I always have big battles and although I was leading 2-0 I wasn’t leading comfortably. I nicked the first two sets which I shouldn’t have and then Will completely changed and for two sets he didn’t miss and I couldn’t do a single thing. In the fifth set, I thought I’d got to try something different because I had lost the last two sets 3 and 4 so I tried to change it and at deuce, I tried to be sensible. In the end, it was two points either way. I feel more comfortable in tight situations now; playing these events used to make me nervous but now I am used to playing in front of a crowd. But it is always difficult playing against someone like Will and it is always going to be tight. It keeps me calm knowing it is expected to be close.”
Daybell’s task in men’s class 9-10 was made easier by the withdrawal of Ashley Facey Thompson, who picked up a back injury playing in the Lignano Master Open in Italy earlier this week. After a 3-0 win against Craig Allen, he beat 13-year-old Pathway athlete Shae Thakker 3-1 in his final match.
The 24-year-old medical student is now back at Leeds University having taken a year off to train for Rio.
“I’m very busy now – studying a lot but still finding time to train and still enjoying it,” said Daybell, who also reached the last 16 in the (able-bodied) men’s singles before losing to England number two Liam Pitchford 4-1. “I was pleased with the men’s singles – the last 16 is always a good place for a Para-athlete to be in the Nationals. I came up against a very strong opponent in Liam and I was pleased I could give him a game – take a set and keep it competitive. I think it is good for Para sport as it shows we are not far off some of the best players in England.
“When I first started just after Beijing 2008 there were no young players coming through and it is nice now that some of the younger players are pushing some of the better players and it is a good feeling to be looking over your shoulder a bit because it shows we are progressing as a country and as a team.”
Hunter-Spivey began with a 3-0 win against Nicko Anderson and then beat Pathway athlete Dan Bullen 3-1. He had to show all his determination to beat the experienced former National champion Kevin Plowman 3-2 in his final match to secure the gold with Bullen taking the silver after beating both Plowman and Anderson 3-1.
“It is a really good win for me,” said Hunter-Spivey, who has been on a fitness programme since returning from Rio. “At the start of my season, this is a good stepping stone for me to progress to the BPTT (British Para Table Tennis) Nationals in April. Kevin is very consistent so I had to be at the top of my game and I’ve proved that I can win when I am not at my best so it was a good result. It is good to be back and nice to be in a competitive environment and playing the sport I love in front of one of the biggest crowds so I am looking forward to playing more this season. I’m feeling fitter, stronger and can move quickly around the table and I’m feeling good so the process of doing this gym programme is definitely working and I’m going in the right direction.”