World champion Will Bayley is one of six Sheffield-based athletes travelling with the GB Para Table Tennis Team to Denmark this week for the ITTF PTT European Championships (October 12-17), which will be the final major championship before the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
The 27 year old will be hoping to regain the European title he won in 2011 but faces opposition from among others Mykhaylo Popov, who defeated Bayley in the European final in 2013, fellow Ukrainian Maksym Nikolenko, who Bayley beat to win the World title in China last year, and double Paralympic champion Jochem Wollmert from Germany.
“Preparations are going great,” said Bayley, who has just returned from a GB training camp in Slovakia. “I’m training hard and feel ready. I’ve been very successful in the last few major competitions which gives me confidence. I just need to make sure I’m taking it point by point and game by game.”
Bayley will also play in the men’s class 7 team event with 16 year old Billy Shilton, who is now training full time at the EIS in Sheffield and studying sport at Hillsborough College. The partnership has already proved successful - beating World champions Spain to win gold in Slovenia earlier this year and defeating China on the way to a silver medal in Germany.
“Playing team with Will in a major will be an amazing experience for me as he always performs his best at major competitions,” said Shilton, who will be competing in his first major championship. “The way he fights for every point is something that I could bring into my game.”
Kim Daybell has taken a year out of his medical studies at Leeds University to focus on his table tennis and has been training and competing with able bodied players in Slovenia as part of his preparation for the European Championships. “I have learned a lot training in Slovenia against different styles and playing in the league has enabled me to sharpen up my match play,” said the men’s class 10 world number nine.
“Training full time has allowed me to focus without the added pressure of studying and exams.”
Ross Wilson, 20, has endured a frustrating time with injuries for the past three years and will be competing in his first major championship since winning a team bronze in London 2012.
“It has been difficult to deal with all of the injuries - both physically and mentally,” said Wilson, “but I am remaining positive and focusing on the big picture which is to do well in Rio 2016. Preparations for Denmark are going well. I am still managing an ongoing injury but I feel that I am dealing with it well and will be able to play well once the competition starts.”
Wilson’s men’s class 8 team partner Aaron McKibbin has lacked consistency this season but has also shown he can beat top players.
“I feel I just need to go into every match mentally very focused and play with freedom and belief,” said McKibbin. “That’s when I play my best table tennis and produce my best results so I’m going to focus on what I want to do and not my opponent.”
Jack Hunter-Spivey has also had an up-and-down year but the 20 year old took silver in his most recent international competition in Korea.
“I really enjoyed the Korean Open,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I had some really good wins out there and it has given me confidence. Preparations are going really well in the lead up to the Europeans. I have been training in Slovakia which is similar conditions to Denmark, and I feel I have really benefited from this and I’m playing some of my best table tennis.”