The British Olympic Association has announced today three male and three female athletes as selected to represent Team GB in table tennis competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The group is led by Paul Drinkhall, 22, who recently broke into the world top 100 at senior level, having enjoyed success at junior level, including three European junior titles and a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.
Drinkhall is joined by 18-year-old Liam Pitchford, who won two medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Pitchford demonstrated his potential at the European Championships where he beat four players ranked in the world top 100, including world number 9 nine Vladimir Samsonov and number 20 Alexey Smirnov.
The men’s squad is completed by the experienced Andrew Baggaley, 29, who has won five Commonwealth Games medals and is a three-time English Men’s Singles National Champion.
The women’s team includes English National Champion Joanna Parker, 25. Joining her is Kelly Sibley, who celebrated her 24th birthday yesterday. Sibley is also a national champion and won 10 matches in a row at the 2011 European Championships in Poland to help the women’s team to promotion to the top tier. The team is completed by Na Liu, 29, who is a regular competitor on the ITTF Pro Tour.
The addition of the table tennis players brings the total number of athletes officially selected to Team GB for London 2012 to 107 across nine sport disciplines: table tennis, archery, athletics – marathon, boxing, canoe slalom, hockey, sailing, swimming and synchronised swimming.
The athletes were formally nominated to the BOA for selection to Team GB by the British Table Tennis Federation, the National Governing Body for table tennis in the UK.
Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt said:
“With just 66 days to go until the Opening Ceremony, and the Olympic Flame now on its journey around the UK, I am delighted to welcome a full complement of six table tennis players as officially selected members of Team GB for London 2012.
“Both the male and female teams include a good balance of youth and experience. The likes of Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford have demonstrated great potential at junior level, which bodes well for the future of British table tennis.
“I have every confidence that the players selected today will deliver a very credible, competitive performance at London 2012, and that the experience of competing in the Olympic Games will benefit them greatly in furthering their international careers, while helping to inspire many new participants to take up the sport across the UK.”
Table Tennis Team Leader Jill Parker said:
“I am pleased to confirm the participation of the three male and three female athletes that we have nominated to compete in the Olympic Games in London.
“This will be the first time that we will have competed in both the men’s and women’s team event. Our athletes have prepared incredibly thoroughly for this chance of a lifetime, and with home support, they are confident they will rise to the occasion.”
Men’s Head Performance Coach Jia Yi Liu said:
“This is an important time for the three players. They have been working really hard for selection and now they’ve been selected their hard work will hopefully reap dividends.
“Everybody will want to take their chance because it is not easy in the Olympic Games. They will want to show people that they can do well.”
Women’s Head Performance Coach Alan Cooke said:
“I’m glad we are at the stage we are at now. The players can now really focus on these last couple of months after working so hard over the last three to four years, so it’s great to be in the last step.
“We’ve got great preparation now as we’re spending a month training in China - the strongest table tennis country in the world. The players are very excited and focused on improving their table tennis.
“They’ll get some momentum from their selection and I’m sure they’ll be excited when they get to London – the fever is building.”
Paul Drinkhall said:
“It’s a great achievement to be selected for Team GB. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in a home Games. I can only guess how it will feel but it’s a fantastic opportunity.
“I started playing better in the last six to eight months, including winning the Nationals again, so I’m really excited. I was slightly disappointed not to qualify by right but it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll keep working hard between now and the Games and since I got the wildcard I want to keep improving and prove I’m good enough to merit my place.”
Liam Pitchford said:
“I’m on top of the world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to play in a home Games at only 18 years old. Hopefully we can showcase British table tennis and where it’s at. We’ve had promising results in the last year or two so hopefully everyone’s going to be on top form.
“There are many top quality players in China and we’ve now got three weeks of great practice with them on training camp. The China Open is a chance to get more ranking points and I’m looking forward to the training because it will be different techniques in a different atmosphere.”
Andrew Baggaley said:
“I’m very pleased to be playing in the Olympics, it’s a massive honour and I’m over the moon. It’s a really exciting and a great time to be an athlete.
“It could’ve been at a time when I was too old or too young but the timing has been incredible as I’m at my peak now at 29 and my best years are yet to come.
“Now I’m totally relaxed and my preparation will continue in China. We’ll be very well prepared and it’s a good time to get sparring in China. When we come back we’ll have a few weeks so we can tailor our game and try to peak at the Olympics.”
Joanna Parker said:
“In the last few months it has really intensified. We’ve known for four years now that it’s coming so we’ve been battling. It’s a relief to finally be picked and it’s so exciting because it’s real now and we’re almost there. Everyone can only imagine what the Games will be like.
“We are a young squad but we will prepare the best we can and make the most of the opportunity – this is every athlete’s dream. I’ve learnt a lot in the last few months. We’ve all improved a lot as a squad and we’ve proved we can compete with the best in the world if we bring our ‘A’ game.”
Kelly Sibley said:
“I’m really pleased. Every sports person will tell you it’s their dream to play in a home Olympic Games and as a GB athlete you couldn’t write it any better.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to share this moment with all your friends and family. And with the extra support we’ll get from the home crowd it will gee us up.
Athlete Na Liu said:
“It’s brilliant, I’m really happy, my dream has come true. Since I was picked in the long list I knew I had a chance to represent Great Britain in 2012.”