ParalympicsGB bagged two Team bronze medals at ExCeL to bring Britain’s Table Tennis haul to four, the most ever at a Paralympic Games.
The Class 6-8 trio of Will Bayley, Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbon beat Germany 3-0 to add men’s Team bronze to the Singles medals won by Bayley and Paul Davies.
“This means even more to me than my individual medal because for these guys to have already won a Paralympic medal will be such great experience when they go to Rio,” said Bayley.
Then the women’s pair of Sara Head and Jane Campbell battled back from two matches down to beat Italy 3-2 and secure Class 1-3 bronze.
Having come back from Beijing empty handed, Britain’s Table Tennis squad leave London 2012 with one silver and three bronze, the culmination of a renaissance guided by Slovenian performance director Gorazd Vecko and his training regime at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport.
Britain’s previous best Table Tennis tally was two – a men’s Team silver and women’s Singles bronze at both the Sydney and Athens Games.
For Head and Campbell, tonight’s victory was especially sweet after they failed to secure medals in the Singles event, and almost went out of the Team competition in the quarter-finals.
Head, who lost her Class 3 Singles bronze medal match earlier this week, said: “To be so close and to smell it, mentally it was hard work coming back into this, having been so close and wanting so much to come away with a medal.
“We’ve done it. It’s fantastic.”
The British pair, good friends away from the table, battled through a five-match epic in Thursday’s quarter-final with Turkey and they had to repeat their heroics against a strong Italian team.
Once Campbell had lost to Michela Brunelli in four games, and Head to Pamela Pezzutto by the same score, Head finally got the Britons on the scoresheet with a hard-fought victory over Brunelli, 14-16, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7.
Campbell responded to her friend’s example, beating Pezzutto in three games to set up the deciding doubles. Head and Campbell won the first game against Pezzutto and Clara Podda but lost the next two and were again staring defeat in the face.
But the Britons have shown their resolve more than once in this tournament and they did so again to take the final two games, 11-3, 11-4, and the bronze medal.
“It was incredible,” said the 32 year old Head from Glamorgan. “When we came back, I think our previous game against Turkey was in our minds. We just said, ‘Relax and enjoy it, anything can happen’.
“To be down and to come back and win a Paralympic medal is just incredible. I don’t know what to say. I was talking to myself and just saying, ‘Please, please’.
“It was a difficult match. Our goal was to stay out there as long as we could and boy, did we do that.”
Campbell, who comes from Barnsley, added: “It was so many mixed emotions, from thinking we were out, to the fightback that Sara put up.
“I just thought, I’m not going to give up either, and that was it. Off we went and it just got better and better.”
The men’s victory was in stark contrast to the women’s as Bayley and Wilson needed only three singles matches, and 66 minutes, to sweep away the Germans.
Wilson set the tone, outplaying Thorsten Schwinn in 16 minutes, 11-2, 11-7, 11-5, before Bayley avenged his Class 7 Singles final defeat by seeing off Jochen Wollmert by a similar score.
The German, who has won five Paralympic gold medals, floored Bayley in an emotional five-game final last Sunday, but the 24 year old Sussex man delivered a crushing blow to the German, winning the second singles match tonight in 20 minutes, 11-9, 11-2, 11-8.
Wilson finished it off, beating Wollmert in another three-gamer, 12-10, 11-4, 12-10, meaning McKibbon didn’t even need to unzip his tracksuit top.
Caoch Greg Baker explained how they had beaten Wollmert twice in 40 minutes.
“Will has played Jochen Wollmert eight times since Beijing and the only time he lost to him was in the final here. So we calmed him down, we went back to the tactics that win him matches and he did the same today,” said Baker.
“It was good that he played him before Ross because Ross watched how Will played him so Ross could do exactly the same. Ross kept his nerve and he dealt with the pressure really well to bring it home for us.”
“To beat Wollmert tonight was pretty special as he beat me in the final,” said Bayley.
“They are going to be the best in the world and it is a privilege to play with them. This is quite a good team and we are going to be even better in Rio.”
Wilson, from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, said: “To get a medal is amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It is just a brilliant feeling.
“We had a good day today and worked well as a team. When we came out we just said, ‘Let’s go and do it’.
Londoner McKibbon added: “I’m glad I didn’t get to play as it would have meant it was down to the doubles. If I had said a year ago that I was going to come here and win a medal I think that would have been very unrealistic.
“We were upset last night not to be through to the final but I’m very happy to have a bronze medal.”
Head said that Britain’s record Table Tennis haul was a result of hard work and inspiration.
Men’s Class 6-8:
Great Britain 3-0 Germany
Ross Wilson bt Thorsten Schwinn 3-0 (11-2, 11-7, 11-5)
Will Bayley bt Jochen Wollmert 3-0 (11-9, 11-2, 11-8)
Ross Wilson bt Jochen Wollmert 3-0 (12-10, 11-4, 12-10)
Women’s Class 1-3:
Great Britain 3-2 Italy
Michela Brunelli bt Jane Campbell 3-1 (12-10, 8-11, 11-9, 11-3)
Pamela Pezzuttto bt Sara Head 3-1 (11-7, 17-15, 9-11, 12-10)
Sara Head bt Michela Brunelli 3-1 (14-16, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7)
Jane Campbell bt Pamela Pezzutto 3-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-7)
Head/Campbell bt Brunelli/Pezzutto 3-2 (11-6, 7-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-4)