Local stars Sam Walker and Liam Pitchford are among 11 table tennis players selected by Team England to compete at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in April.
Born in Sutton, Walker lives in Worksop while Pitchford comes from Chesterfield
With less than two months to go until the Games in Australia, eight able bodied and three para players make up the squad, who will compete at Oxenford Studios.
Walker heads to Australia with golden ambitions to match the Gold Coast location after being named in the England squad for the Commonwealth Games.
The Worksop athlete is aiming to go one better than Glasgow 2014, when he helped England win team silver – and is also targeting individual medals in singles and doubles.
“It’s always great to represent my country, especially at a multi-sports event, and I’ve never been to Australia, so I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
“My ambitions are lots of medals, hopefully! For the team, I think gold has to be the ambition, but I’d like gold in everything – that’s what I’m aiming for.”
Walker will join Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford – fellow medallists from Glasgow – in the line-up, along with first-time Commonwealth Games athlete David McBeath.
They will first mount an assault on the team event, before the individual events get under way, which will see Walker compete in singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles.
He said: “I think India are the big threats in the team. They have got four players now who have been playing well and have gone up the rankings. They’re going to be a tough side to beat – but so are we. Singapore and Nigeria are dangerous as well.”
Walker knows Pitchford and Drinkhall will be major threats in the singles – they are all ranked in the world’s top 100 – along with the Indian players and Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna.
He said: “I think I’ll probably be in the top eight seeds and first things first is to get to the quarter-finals. I believe I’d be able to go on and win it, but there’s a lot of others thinking the same thing and trying to do it.”
And if he does meet one of his team-mates on the way?
“We’re friends off the table but obviously if we meet on the table, well, you just have to play your opponent as normal,” he said.
“I want my friends to do well. I’ll try my best but if I play them and lose to them fairly because they are the better player, then that’s fine, I’ll be happy for them.
“I would like for it to be an England 1-2-3 – that would be amazing!”
At the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014, Team England were second on the table tennis medal table behind Singapore with a total of five medals including one gold, two silver and two bronze.
The team will be challenging for nine medals across both table tennis and para-table tennis on the Gold Coast with competition running from 5 April to 15 April.
Team England have won 15 Commonwealth Games table tennis medals and five of the selected athletes have previous Commonwealth Games experience.
The squad selected have 12 Commonwealth medals between them.
Team England will send a team of around 600 athletes and staff in what will be England’s largest ever team to represent the nation in an overseas sporting event. The team will compete in 18 sports, including 38 para medal events.
Sarah Winckless, Chef de Mission for Commonwealth Games England, said: “I am very much looking forward welcoming the integrated table tennis athletes to Team England.
“Paul and Liam were our first selected athletes to the Team, having achieved their qualifying standard a year ago, they are joined by extremely talented teammates with good experience.
“I am very proud to be working with this group and look forward to supporting them at the Games.”
Team England’s table tennis team leader, Simon Mills, said:
“I’m delighted to announce a squad which has an exciting blend of youth and experience.
“We travel with confidence that the squad will compete strongly for medals.
“The selection process was very competitive, which bodes well for the future, including a home Games in Birmingham in 2022.”