Megan Shackleton, 22, from Todmorden and Sue Bailey, 48, a primary school teacher from Barnsley contesting her fifth Paralympic Games, combined to win bronze in the Women’s Team, class 4-5, in the Far East.
Shackleton – who fractured her spine in a machinery–related accident aged nine which left her in a wheelchair – competed in both the singles and team events at Tokyo 2020, using the disappointment of an early exit in the former to ensure she didn’t leave Tokyo empty-handed in the latter. Drawing a tough singles group, Shackleton faced the Paralympic champion and world No 1 Zhou Ying and world No 12, Bhavina Patel, who both went on to contest the final.
“In my head, I really wanted to get through the group, and I think I just felt a little bit tense,” said first-time Paralympian Shackleton, who started playing table tennis at the age of 12 at a Playground to Podium event in Leeds, and joined the GB pathway squad a year later.
“Everyone wants to do well at the Paralympic Games, and I think I just felt the pressure.”
Losing out on the singles made Shackleton even hungrier for a medal, especially as she was the only athlete in her flat that was yet to stand on the podium.
“I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Shackleton, who had the opportunity to sit next to Paralympic gold and silver medallist Richard Whitehead on the plane out to Japan.
“My motto going into the team event was just to leave it all out there and I couldn’t have physically done more if I tried.”
A loss in the doubles and Bailey being pushed into the fifth set in the deciding singles, made for a tense moment as the destiny of the bronze came down to Shackleton’s singles match.
“I had a pretty big ask to go on and win my singles because the girl I was playing was in the classification above me, which means that she’s got less of a disability, and was also world No 2,” added Shackleton. “I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
But she delivered the win, and the partnership of Shackleton and Bailey which was forged in 2015 and had previously won bronze at the 2017 world championships, were now Paralympic medallists.
They pinpoint their success on their communication skills, helping each other navigate matches effectively, and providing words of encouragement when needed.
“I said to Sue whilst we were playing the doubles medal match that I needed her help right then as I was very nervous, so she was able to settle me into it and the same applies the other way round,” continued Shackleton.
“We train so hard together, and it’s just trust. Sometimes it falls on me and I might be the person who loses the deciding match but, we come as a team and there’s no judgment either way, regardless of the outcome.”
Shackleton credits swimmer Rebecca Adlington as her sporting inspiration and hopes to promote a new wave of table tennis players herself.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years,” added Shackleton. “We give our all every day to train, we give it our all at competitions and it doesn’t always pay-off but for it to all fall together at the right time, it was an amazing feeling.”