Guest Blogger Rob Davies amazing journey to Table Tennis Medal Gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympics
Build Up to Rio
The build up to Rio was rather muted for us compared with London 4 years previously. All we heard about was the Zika Virus! As athletes it did concern us, however the Olympians went out before us for the test run! Our GB Para Table Tennis squad is based at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield and without doubt having spoken with members of staff and athletes that had already been out there and experienced Rio at the Olympics helped put our minds at ease and may have even given us an advantage compared with other nations ready for the Paralympics, we had an insight!!
Rio Opening Ceremony
We watched the opening ceremony in our apartment in the athletes village as a squad. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t make the ceremony because we were playing the next day, but it was definitely the right decision. We’re a professional outfit, we enjoyed watching it in our apartment chilling out on the sofa. Nothing gives you more of a boost knowing your relaxing and recharging your batteries, then you see your opposition for the following day on the television at the opening ceremony, you know it’s probably going to be a good 3 or 4 hours before they’re going to be resting while you’re having a cuppa in your room!
Leading up to Rio I wasn’t at my most confident, I hadn’t been able to put a consistent period of table tennis training together until the end. I’ve been dealing with a back injury since 2013, and I was struggling to deal with having my training time restricted.
The group matches were my hardest facing Borgato of Italy, and Keller of Switzerland. I managed to overcome them both 3-2 but they were both very close matches I think one of them even had match point. I knew I wasn’t playing my best table tennis, and when it’s like that, the most important thing is that you just grind out the win. Maybe I wasn’t playing too well because I was low on confidence after the lack of consistency in training.
Having won two out of two of my group matches I had a chat with my psychologist to try and help me play better for the knockout stages. There was one change that made the difference, instead of going out being afraid to lose the match, go out to win it! And that was the difference between playing positive and the way I can, or too negative, you’ve got to go out there to win it instead of being afraid to lose it.
Knock out stages
The quarter finals I faced Ducay of France, he was the athlete who put me out at the group stages in London. We’ve had many battles since, this time it was my time! Although I won the match 3-0 the last end score was 22-20, a battle and an important end to win.
The semifinal was Major from Hungary, a tough opponent physically strong but not with the experience of my earlier rival Ducay. Overcoming him was almost a relief, to know I was going to be in the final of the Paralympics was amazing, I knew I’d be walking away with the silver or gold. Ok that’s brilliant but now to refocus and to do the job you’d come to do!
The Korean team is always strong in my disability class 1, we thought it was likely I’d face at least one during the competition. They all play a very similar style of play, but obviously as individuals they have their own strengths and weaknesses. Leading into Rio we prepared for them well, lots of long pimple table tennis rubber practice, and bringing an athlete over specifically for me from Ireland with a similar style.
Gold medal match!
So Joo of South Korea it was! I faced him only in one other competition before, and losing to him twice in that previous comp. I knew it was going to be tough, and having won the first end having been behind for the most of it was a real boost. The second end was a lot different, I went away from my tactics a little bit trying new things, and it didn’t pay off. He had a run of points and there was no coming back. The third was a close end, eventually winning it 11-9 again after battling back from being behind. The fourth and final end was a lot better for me, I was more dominant and Joo became nervous. It was an amazing atmosphere in the final for me, the whole squad was behind me, and boy could I hear them! Super…super Rob, Super, Super Rob, Super Robbie Davies was the chant it carried me through! The feeling when I realised I’d won is indescribable, almost like all the frustration, and anger from having my rugby injury had been released, like I could finally feel although I’d reached the pinnacle! A huge relief, so many people had supported and believed in me, to finally become what they’d spoke of! Proud to be able to do it for those people.
Since I’ve been back the response has been mind blowing, to be told on an almost daily basis that you’ve inspired someone, there is no better feeling. For me that’s the best part about this whole journey, inspiring the children, the champions of tomorrow. Seeing their face when you show them the medal, and when they put it on!
I received my MBE earlier this month from HRH Prince William, a truly fabulous experience, and one I never thought I’d have. Myself and my team member William Bayley both received our investitures on the same day. A humbling experience made even more perfect because I got to enjoy it with my fiancée, my mum and my twin brother.
You can find more information about Rob Davies on his website www.roberdaviestt.com
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