World Championship success testament to strength of BPTT’s development programme
At the end of the Andalucia 2022 World Para Table Tennis Championships, with 10 medals including three golds BPTT Performance Director Gorazd Vecko was able to reflect on the most successful World Championships ever for the British team.
“I am so proud of my team,” he said. “Everyone – athletes, coaches, support staff - was amazing, particularly as we lost a couple of key personnel before the World Championships, so we had to make some big changes which was not easy, and I am really happy with the end result. When I started in 2009 my ambition was that Britain would be one of the top five countries in the world by 2021,” said Vecko, “and at these World Championships only Korea and France have won more gold medals than us.”
Four of BPTT’s medals came in the inaugural doubles events with Paul Karabardak and Billy Shilton (men’s class 14) and Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams (women’s class 14) taking gold.
“This was the first time that we have had doubles events in a major competition,” said Vecko, “and when we came out to the World Championships, we didn’t know how our level would compare against other countries. We put players together that we believed were our best combinations and with two gold, one silver and one bronze it appears that we did the right thing and we have shown that we can compete at the highest level in doubles. Grace and Fliss beating very experienced partnerships to win the gold medal was a big surprise but fully deserved because they played amazingly well and I’m just very happy with all the athletes.”
The success of the team in Andalucia is testament to the strength of BPTT’s development strategy with medallists Joshua Stacey, Billy Shilton, Martin Perry, Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams all having come through the Pathway programme.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved with the Pathway programme,” said Vecko. “In 2009 our priority was to get results because British Para table tennis had not won any medals in Beijing, so it was important to get results in London to maintain the funding from UK Sport. Then the next step was development because you always need to have a second Will Bayley or Ross Wilson coming through. It is all about producing athletes who can compete at the highest level in the Paralympics and that you don’t depend on a couple of players - you have a squad of players that can medal in major competitions. Maybe some players don’t medal but others do - what is important is the team performance.”
The team’s performance in Andalucia follows its most successful Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year with seven medals and Vecko is hopeful that his team can match or even exceed that in Paris in 2024.
“We have improved massively since Tokyo,” he said. “The programme is stronger, the athletes are much stronger and the family structure that is so important to us as a team is stronger than ever. The athletes are enjoying playing table tennis and they are excited for next year. Rob Davies didn’t play in Tokyo due to injury but is coming back slowly and took bronze here and will be 100% ready for qualification next year and we will also have Megan Shackleton back. So I’m really excited about Paris because I think a lot of players can qualify. Grace Williams and Martin Perry received wild cards for the World Championships and they both medalled and for Martin to be in the semi-finals in the singles is incredible. We know that all the players in the Performance Squad can medal in major competitions and we will be ready for Paris.”