Juggling academic studies while competing at the Commonwealth Games is no easy task, but it is one that Team England table tennis sensation Maria Tsaptsinos persevered at and achieved.
Having achieved a podium place at her Commonwealth Games debut, Tsaptsinos revealed that studying for her university exams and writing her dissertation helped her get the most out of her training.
“I thought if I’m not putting 100% into my training, then what was the point? I could have been at home spending time doing work,” she confessed. “I wasn’t going to sacrifice not doing well in my degree, for nothing, essentially. So I was going to put my all in to it.”
Team England tasted table tennis success across the board, but possibly the most pleasant surprise came from the women’s team triumph in the bronze medal match against the hosts Australia, of which Tsaptsinos was a part of.
Having lost out to India in the second semi-final just under two hours prior, Team England dug deep to upset the odds and topple Australia 3-1 in front of a stunned home crowd.
“We all knew we had to do something (in the bronze medal match), a lot of us just went off and sat in silence, re-gathered our thoughts and didn’t expend any energy,” the Reading-born table tennis star recollected. “Going in against a home crowd was very difficult, but we carried each other as a team and it was one of the best feelings of my life winning that bronze medal.”
The squad, which consisted of teenagers Denise Payet, 16, Tin-Tin Ho, 19, 20-year-old Maria and veteran Kelly Sibley, had just 10 full weeks preparation for the Games as a team, but they certainly put in the hard graft and the hours to defy all the odds.
This grit and determination was spectacularly showcased at the Gold Coast, when Ho bested Miao Miao in the deciding game, sparking memorable celebrations.
“I sacrificed my third year University for it,” Tsaptsinos explained. “It meant so much more than what it seemed because we put so many hours into it.”
Tsaptsinos, who had participated in only one multi-sports competition prior to the Gold Coast, the World University Games, believes that her experience in Australia is one she won’t forget for “a very long time.”
“(The World University Games) was good exposure, but the Gold Coast was much better, the location was better and it was a better atmosphere,” the 20-year-old suggested. “There was a sense in the village of drive, everyone was there to bring back medals for Team England.”
With international tournament experience under her belt, Tsaptsinos’ attention turns to the European Singles tournament in September and the World Championships following that. On top of this, the 20-year-old will make the transition into a full-time athlete, having always balanced her education with table tennis, it’s a challenge she relishes.