Four years after taking Paralympic silver in London 2012 Sheffield-based table tennis star Will Bayley took gold in Rio, beating the Brazilian Israel Stroh 3-1 in the final of men’s class 7 singles.
Bayley then combined with fellow Sheffield-based team mates Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbin to take bronze in the men’s class 6-8 team event but there was heartache for Barnsley’s Sue Gilroy who narrowly missed out on the bronze medal in the women’s class 4 singles.
World champion Bayley hadstarted in Rio by losing 3-1 to Stroh in his first group match but showed his character and determination in bouncing back from that defeat to beat China’s Keli Liao 3-0 and secure top spot in the group. Victories over the Egyptian Sayed Youssef in the quarter-finals and Jordi Morales from Spain in the semi-finals took him through to his sixth consecutive major final and he held his nerve in the final to edge a tense third set before establishing a clear lead in the fourth. With the score at 10-4 he only needed one of his six match points to take the gold before leaping on to the table in celebration - an action that earned him a yellow card from the umpire.
“I think I got a massive sense of calmness after that third set,” said Bayley. “It was a tough match. It was my sixth major final and that helped me a lot.”
In the team event Bayley, Wilson and McKibbin defeated Belgium and Spain and then recovered from the disappointment of losing their semi-final to Ukraine to beat World champions China in the bronze medal match.
Wilson and McKibbin took a tight doubles match 11-9 in the fifth and after double Paralympic champion had beaten Wilson 3-1 McKibbin then played superbly to beat Sun Churen in the deciding singles 3-2.
“We have a special belief about us and we believed we were going to do this today,” said McKibbin. “It was a hard loss yesterday and we came back and we believed genuinely that we could do this if we performed to our level and we showed it out there. I’m over the moon for the boys - we won a bronze medal in London but I personally think this is a greater achievement. We have had such hard opponents all the way through and the competition is getting stronger and stronger. I’m just so thrilled for the boys that we’ve done it.”
Wilson has endured a series of injuries in the last four years and was playing in only his sixth competition since London 2012.
“We started quite slowly in our semi-final match,” he said, “and we really wanted to up it for this one so we really wanted to start well and from the go we went out there and just gave it absolutely everything. We had a great start but they came back and showed amazing fight and we went down in the fifth but we believed until the end. I was feeling the nerves the whole way through the last match but we believed in him (Aaron). We do that as a team - we believe in each other and I think that is what makes us get these results and I can’t believe we’ve done it.”
Bayley, who had secured the decisive singles win in the quarter-final against Spain, admitted that he would rather play than watch.
“It was agony watching,” said the 28 year old, “and I just feel drained now. They were superb - we’ve come through a lot in this tournament and had to beat some good teams. Overall the tournament has been fantastic for us and I’m proud of the boys - they held their nerve superbly.”
Gilroy was trying to win her first Paralympic medal at her fifth Games and she came agonisingly close. She lead 2-0 in her bronze medal match before Matic came back to take the match 11-6 in the fifth. Gilroy was understandably bitterly disappointed having come so close to winning the one major medal that has eluded her in her illustrious career.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” she said. “I followed the game plan that we had going in but she improved as the games went on and she played better on the day. Fourth is the worst position to be in, particularly when you have been 2-0 up. “I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m gutted for my family and coaches who have helped me so much that I just couldn’t get that medal.”