We recently caught up with our latest Team England Ambassador programme inductee Will Bayley.
The Paralympic, World and European table tennis champion talked to Team England about finally winning Paralympic gold, the importance of a positive atmosphere, how his grandma got him into table tennis and his excitement for his first ever Commonwealth Games.
TE: How did you start table tennis?
WB: “When I was 7 years old I had Non-hodgkins lymphoma and my grandma actually bought me a table tennis table and put it in my garage. I used to play against my brother and beat him so I joined a club, then started playing for county and that’s how I got into the GB team.
“I saw Matthew Seyd playing table tennis in the Commonwealth Games when I was young and was really inspired by him and by the game – I couldn’t blink and was like wow. I then wanted to play for England and GB and was going to do everything I could to make that happen.”
TE: Well you have certainly achieved that - congratulations on becoming Paralympic Champion. How was Rio different to any other major event you have experienced?
WB: “It was completely different to any Games that I have ever been to. Rio was my third Paralympic Games. Beijing 2008 was really special, as the home of table tennis, and London was obviously my hometown so going into Rio as World number one I really wanted to do the job and do as well as I can. I lost in my first match but to go on and win the gold medal from that was incredible.
“The Paralympic Games was something that I have never won before, I finished second in London so to say that I have won three major championships – Paralympic, World and European – is something that I always wanted to achieve. “
TE: How did you find the atmosphere of Para GB was?
WB: “The atmosphere was amazing. I remember that everyone was buzzing ahead of the Games and the momentum kept building throughout the Games and the atmosphere got better and better and better as we went through and were going up the leader board.
“All of the positive energy from all the sports rubbed off on each other and that is what makes a multi-sport Games really special.”
TE: Are you excited for Gold Coast 2018?
WB: “I am really excited for the 2018 Commonwealth Games because I have never represented England in my whole career so it is going to be really good.
“I have always represented Great Britain, which is a great honour, but it will be special to be able to represent England and to try and win the Commonwealths would be an amazing title that I have never won before.
TE: In a multi-sport environment, there are so many different characters. How do you balance all of the people you have to interact with?
WB: “There are so many different characters and athletes and over the years I have learnt how to deal with those different characters. Especially before a tournament it’s important not to upset anybody or get on the wrong side of anyone.
“You want everything to run smoothly and want to be around people that make you feel positive and I try to do that and I try to do that in a multi-sport Games environment.”
TE: At Gold Coast 2018 the para events will be integrated with the able bodied programme and there will be a total of 38 para medal events – will it feel different for you?
WB: “I think it will be really good actually. For me personally, I get on really well with the able bodied players in the Table Tennis England team but it will also be different as I have never done anything like that before and never played alongside able bodied athletes. It’s something new and something really exciting.”
TE: On 2nd March you are being awarded your MBE – you must be excited?
WB: “I am so excited. It seems a bit surreal to be honest and hasn’t sunk in but it’s really cool and will be nice to have that honour.:
TE: Have you found that since Rio there are a lot of young people looking up to you?
WB: “London 2012 was massive in getting people to watch para sport and Table Tennis and since wining the Gold medal in Ro last year I have noticed that lots of people are taking up the sport.
“I get a lot of young people getting in touch to let me know they have started playing table tennis after they saw my final.
“That’s the power of sport, you can inspire people.”
TE: What is your favourite thing about table tennis?
WB: “It is one of those things that has so many variations of play – the spin, the speed – it’s really unpredictable and no one is guaranteed medals in the sport.
TE: Do you like playing doubles as well as singles?
WB: “I like playing doubles but need to improve on it. I think I would be quite annoying to have as a doubles partner as I am quite demanding. But I do enjoy playing doubles and hope to have a chance in the Commonwealth Games.”
TE: When going to a competition, what is the one thing that you can’t leave house without?
WB: “I like to bring a notepad so that I can make notes after matches which I find helps me. I don’t like to leave it behind because I feel like I am not going to learn from the match.”