Poole-born Paralympian Will Bayley is delighted to have been called up to Great Britain’s table tennis Paralympic squad which will compete at the games in Rio this September.
The 28-year-old has been playing table tennis since the age of seven and was born with the condition arthrogryposis, a severe curving of the joints which causes serious muscle weakness.
Bayley became world champion in 2014 and world number one in the singles class 7 category last year, but prior to that he was disappointed on missing out on a gold medal at the Paralympic games in London 2012.
The table tennis star can still look back on the London games with fond memories and is extremely proud when reflecting on winning a silver medal.
It felt surreal at times when you’re getting cheered on by 6,000 people saying Will Bayley, it’s crazy but it was a great experience.
“I took a lot from it after looking back on it and reaching the final. I’m very proud (to achieve the silver medal) but I had my chances and could have won the match, but it was one of those days.
“I had a great win in the semifinals and there are some tough matches as it’s the Paralympic games, so to get to the final was still a massive achievement, especially in a sport as unpredictable as table tennis.”
Bayley also spoke about the Paralympic legacy and gave his thoughts on how people’s attitudes towards disability sport has changed following the games in London 2012.
He said; “I think the Paralympic games is now more well respected than it was before London, people quite enjoyed it.
“It’s slowly getting bigger and bigger, but with regards to public perceptions there is still work which needs to be done.
“I think people still probably find it hard to believe that I’m a full time table tennis player because they don’t really understand how much you have to train to be a top player, they probably just think ‘oh it’s just disabled people having a go at sport’.
“It’s nothing like that though it’s quite a high level game and I think all Paralympian’s train really hard and I think the public are starting to notice that.”
According to a survey carried out by the Guardian regarding the Paralympic legacy, 80% of people with a disability and nearly seven in ten without said that they still feel prejudice when participating in sporting activities.
This is a statistic which Bayley can very much believe; “I think there’s a little bit of lack of respect, I play a lot of able bodied table tennis players now and they can’t believe the level that you can play at.
When people look at disabled sport they think one thing, but I think they get surprised when they watch and see what people are capable of.
The world number one also competed at the 2008 Paralympics and has fond memories from his first games; “Beijing was awesome, especially with myself being a table tennis player, it’s China’s national sport.
“Every day was totally sold out and the way China got behind their players was unbelievable. It was a real loud atmosphere and a fantastic event.”
Bayley is honoured to have been called up to the GB Paralympic squad for the third time, he said; “I was delighted to be selected, with being number one I was hopeful obviously but it’s still a great feeling, the main job is to do when I get out there.”
The Poole-born star will head a 12 strong GB table tennis team competing in Brazil in the class 7 singles event and classes’ 6-8 team event, which achieved a bronze medal in London 2012.
He and the team are looking forward to heading out to Rio once again; “I played in one competition there three years ago and it was really good, a great atmosphere, full of really lively, bubbly people, so it should be a real festival of a games.”
In the build up to the Paralympics, Bayley is training six hours a day and doing an hour in the gym so that he can be as prepared as possible for the games.
The world champion will be based at a training camp in Slovenia in August before heading out to Rio a week or ten days before the Paralympics get underway on the 7th of September and does not have a specific aim at the games, only to try and do his best.
“I just want to be as well prepared as I can and focus on what I can do, I’m not thinking about medals, I’m just going to take it one step at a time, one match at a time and we’ll see what happens.”
The Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro take place from the 7th to the 18th of September 2016.