Strictly Come Dancing and a Paralympic champion, but Will Bayley is better than ever

He is a paralympic champion, the current world champion and even a former contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, but Will Bayley believes fans in Sheffield will see the best of him at the European Para Table Tennis Championships next week.

The 35-year-old from Tunbridge Wells is the biggest name in British Paralympic table tennis, has been for more than a decade, winning gold in Rio and silvers either side in London and Tokyo. Between times he has elevated his sport by appearing on Strictly, but also tasted the lows of injury and failing to meet the demands of external pressure.

But as he looks ahead to a fifth Paralympics in Paris next summer, the road to which weaves through the British table tennis base at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from Monday to Saturday for the European Championships, Bayley speaks with greater enthusiasm than ever before.

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“I’m lucky I’ve got two young kids now and that motivates me massively. That’s helped me resurrect my career,” he beams.

Will Bayley of Great Britain has been starring on the Paralympic world stage for 15 years (Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for BPA)Will Bayley of Great Britain has been starring on the Paralympic world stage for 15 years (Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for BPA)
Will Bayley of Great Britain has been starring on the Paralympic world stage for 15 years (Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for BPA)

“I had a few hard years after Rio 2016, winning the gold medal, I didn’t really play that well but fortunately now I’m playing the best I’ve ever done.

“Look at Djokovic, look at Nadal, that’s a more physical sport but they’re at their best in their late 30s

“I feel like I could carry on for a long time. I was a late developer in terms of maturity.”

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So how is that translating onto the table? “I just believe I can be myself and win,” he tells The Yorkshire Post. “Before I thought I had to do something special to win. With confidence and belief in my own ability, if I just do what I do, and play the way I play, I know I can win.

Will Bayley of Team Great Britain competes with Yan Shuo of Team China in mens singles class 7 gold medal match table tennis on day 5 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (Picture: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)Will Bayley of Team Great Britain competes with Yan Shuo of Team China in mens singles class 7 gold medal match table tennis on day 5 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (Picture: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Will Bayley of Team Great Britain competes with Yan Shuo of Team China in mens singles class 7 gold medal match table tennis on day 5 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (Picture: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

“I haven’t lost since Tokyo - just got to keep on that roll. So no pressure for Sheffield then.”

At the EIS he will contest the individual plus the mixed doubles with an athlete a third his age, Bly Twomey, who he trains with and coaches in Brighton.

“A player of 13 keeps you fresh, plus she’s the boss, she’s a fiery one, she’s never shy to tell me if I’m not doing something right. I thought I was competitive but she’s another level,” laughs Bayley, who knows his experience is huge for the young protege. “Just playing with me in big matches will be massive for her, to understand how to win, it’s different to training when the lights are on, there’s people watching and there’s nowhere to hide.

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“For me, this new motivatation is good timing because Paris is going to be massive for me, and Sheffield is a good little test event.”

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