Ask most athletes for memories of a Commonwealth gold medal and they’ll break into a smile.

The mental picture of triumph is an idyllic one: a podium, flags and their anthem, a euphoric crowd watching on. 

Table tennis legend Sue Bailey's memory of Manchester 2002 has all the ingredients.

Instead, when she recalls that golden day 20 years ago, her speech slows and voice cracks.

“Manchester was an incredibly difficult Games for me because my Dad was terminally ill,” she recalled.

“So all he wanted to do was get there and see my final, which he did.

“I got him out of the hospital, they said he would never get out, but we got him there in the ambulance, with his oxygen tank and he watched the final

“That will always be special.”

Four years later, the primary school teacher from Dodworth, Barnsley won her second Commonwealth gold and associates those Games with her mother.

“It was really weird because my Mum had emigrated to Melbourne," said Bailey. "So while we were over there we visited the school she went to for a couple of years before she went back to Britain.

“Both those Games hold really special memories for very different reasons.

“It was special to see where my Mum had to move to when she was about six or seven, but I’ll never forget Manchester.”

Her third appearance in the event this summer comes an incredible 16 years after her last.

The 49-year-old could not participate in Glasgow or Gold Coast, as there was no event for Bailey’s class 4 division, while the Games in Delhi clashed with the World Championships.  

In the meantime she fulfilled a lifetime dream - her first Paralympic medal – which came at her sixth attempt in Tokyo last year.  

There was never any doubt in Bailey’s mind that she would return to Commonwealth action in Birmingham, despite having competed in just four tournaments since the onset of the pandemic.

“It’s just so lovely to get to the third Games, it’s been so long coming," she beamed.

“It’s been so disrupted and still is with Covid, but it brings back that level of normality.”

The Commonwealth Games has been a family affair for Bailey from the start but she didn't jump the gun on ensuring children Lauren and Ryan would be courtside.

The world no. 12 refused to buy tickets for the Games until she could be sure of her place in the England team.

“I didn’t want to tempt fate,” she laughed. “It’s a bit late now though as the selection came after the tickets were released, so I’ve got to try to sort them now.

“I’m hoping there’s still some left. Otherwise I’ll be the only one there with nobody supporting me.

“But my children are incredibly proud. When I came back from the Paralympics the whole of the house was decorated with flags everywhere.”

This summer's Games offers the chance for disabled and non-disabled competitors to share the athletes' village, something which Bailey has sorely missed.

“For me personally, it’s great competing for our home nation, for England, and it’s the only time we can compete with our able-bodied counterparts.

“It’s the start of a new era now. We also have the World Championships coming back in November. It’s just nice to be back in the normal cycle of competing.

“Training is not the same. There’s no atmosphere, and less pressure. It’ll just be amazing to compete in front of a home crowd.”

Bailey is prepared to embrace a maternal role within the England camp, sharing her past experiences with those at the start of their international careers.

Asked what advice she will offer, she said: “Enjoy every minute of it. Don’t leave anything on the table, don’t get caught up in anything else and just focus on playing your best.

“Use the atmosphere as a positive but don’t let that distract you. You’re there to win medals. But enjoy the experience, because it is so special.”