Fliss Pickard

Fliss’s story
Having been keen on sport from an early age Fliss started playing table tennis in 2010 when she wanted to find a sport she could play competitively. “I had started horse riding but the only equestrian sport in the Paralympics is dressage and I wanted to do more than dressage,” explains Fliss, who went on to try boccia and swimming, both of which failed to provide her with the challenge that she wanted.

At the age of 14 she began volunteering to help other disabled people and having played table tennis on holiday she was asked to play while volunteering at Hyndburn table tennis club. The coach spotted her natural ability and Fliss had found a sport in which she could excel. “I have always wanted to achieve something,” says Fliss, “and I found I could do that with table tennis.”

She inherited her competitive nature from her father Will. “Even when we were just playing a board game at home he would never let me win,” says Fliss.

She made her international debut at the Czech Open in 2011 and was selected for the GB Para Table Tennis Team Performance Squad in April 2014. Born with cerebral palsy Fliss is training hard “to compete more with the girls in my class”. In 2013 she had the chance to play in international team events with Sandra Paovic, the Olympic table tennis player from Croatia who suffered a severe spinal injury in a car accident in 2009. She continues to benefit from advice from Paovic, who is in regular contact with Fliss.

“I didn’t want to think of myself as a disabled athlete,” admits Fliss, “and Sandra has helped me to come to terms with that and see it as a positive. Sport sets me free from my disability.”

Fliss represented GB at the European Championships in 2013 and performed with great credit at her first major championships, fighting hard and narrowly failing to record a win in the group stages.

“Last season was a great learning curve,” she said, “and all the experience of the competitions and the training camps has given me an idea of the level I need to reach. The Europeans was a brilliant experience and I felt that I was playing my best table tennis. I wasn’t expecting to win – it was all about the learning curve. I had some very close matches considering the level of the girls I was playing and I was very happy with my performance.”

In 2014 Fliss took a break from international competition to focus on her training and she returned in the Belgium Open in October 2015. She showed her improvement and belied her ranking in the round robin women’s class 6 singles event, starting with a 3-2 win over top seed and 2010 World champion Katarzyna Marszal from Poland, holding her nerve to win a very tight match 14-12 in the fifth. She went on to clinch the gold medal with 3-0 wins over Russian World number 11 Svetlana Nesterenko and Tatiana Ledovskaia, also from Russia.

“I’m really happy,” she said. “I just tried to focus on my game and stay more relaxed. I saved seven match points in my first match – I just kept focused and she got a bit tight which helped me and that gave me great confidence for the rest of my matches. Now I know I can handle those situations and stay relaxed it gives me great motivation for the future. The goal here was just to see how I could cope with international competition so to win gold is a bonus and now I can push on with my training.”

Fliss continued to work hard in training and in 2017 competed in the European Championships in Slovenia. Although she went out at the group stages after losing to two higher ranked and more experienced opponents she was able to take plenty of positives from her second major championship.

“I thought I played well in parts,” she said, “and it has given me a lot of confidence going forward. I’ve just got to build from this. I’ve got to work hard now and I know what I need to work on and I’m not far off – it’s just about those little margins and then I think I’ll be up there.”

In April 2018 Fliss represented Team England in the Commonwealth Games in Australia and played really well to reach the semi-finals of the women’s class 6-10 singles, losing the bronze medal match to the class 10 Australian Andrea McDonnell 3-0.

“It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said. “I’ve learnt so much and can’t wait to get home and train harder than ever. The match was tough but definitely some positives and massive lessons to be taken from it that will push me even harder.”

In October Fliss confirmed her improvement by taking bronze in the World Championships in Slovenia, showing all her fight and determination to beat the World number nine Gabriela Constantin in her final group match and then producing an even better performance to defeat the World number four and former World champion from Poland Katarzyna Marszal 3-0 in the quarter-final.

She put in another solid performance in the semi-final against the World number two and European champion Raisa Chebanika, saving match points in the fourth set before the hugely experienced Russian, who was Paralympic champion in London 2012, secured the set 14-12 and the match 3-1.

“I thought in parts I played really well,” said Fliss, “and things I had been working on in training came off. Obviously there is lots to work on but that is always the case in table tennis. I’m disappointed now but I think I’ll look back in time and realise I’ve had some good wins and definitely under the pressure I think I’ve performed quite well. I’ve got massive motivation now. I’m new to the full time programme and I’m only at 5% of where I want to be and what I believe I’m capable of. It’s just little tweaks here and there; keep working as hard as I can and I can be the best in the world.”

Take 5 with Fliss:
Most admired sportsman – Will Bayley
Sporting event you would most like a ticket for – Wimbledon
Favourite sport – football (Fliss supports her local club Padiham and goes to as many home games as she can)
Three words that describe you best – stubborn, determined, competitive
Achievement you are most proud of – being selected to represent GB
and finally – Fliss was Volunteer of the Year for Burnley in 2010 and subsequently accompanied 24 disabled and disadvantaged children on the Journey of a Lifetime to Borneo

2019 Results:
China Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6); silver, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Finland Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6); silver, women’s teams (class 6-7)
European Championships, Sweden – QF, women’s singles (class 6)
Czech Open – gold, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-8)
Japan Open – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); 4th women’s teams (class 6-7 RR)
Polish Open – silver, women’s singles (class 6); silver, women’s teams (class 6)
Slovenia Open – QF, women’s singles (class 6); 5th women’s teams (class 6-7 RR)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – bronze, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-8)

2018 Results:
World Championships, Slovenia – bronze, women’s singles (class 6)
Czech Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6); silver, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Slovenia Open – QF, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Slovakia Open – silver, women’s teams (class 6-7); group stages, women’s singles (class 6)
Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia – SF, women’s singles (class 6-10)

2017 Results:
Czech Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6); silver, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Belgium Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6-7); bronze, women’s teams (class 6-10)
European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – group stages, women’s singles (class 6)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Slovenia Open – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); 4th place RR, women’s teams (class 6-7)

2016 Results:
Slovenia Open – bronze, women’s teams (class 6-7); group stages, women’s singles (class 6)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s teams (class 6-7)

2015 Results:
Belgium Open – gold, women’s singles (class 6)

2014 Results:
Slovenia Open – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s team (class 6-7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – group stages, women’s singles (class 6); group stages, women’s team (class 6-7)

Career Highlights:
2018: World Championships, Slovenia – bronze, women’s singles (class 6)
Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia – SF, women’s singles (class 6-10)
2017: Belgium Open – bronze, women’s singles (class 6-7); bronze, women’s teams (class 6-10)
European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – group stages, women’s singles (class 6)
2015: Belgium Open – gold, women’s singles (class 6)
2013: European Championships, Lignano, Italy: group stages, women’s singles (Class 6)
2013: National champion (Class 6-7)

Felicity Pickard headshot photo 2018

Date and place of birth: 17/07/94, Wordsley
Home town: Burnley
Lives: Burnley
Family: Mum Mandy, dad Will
TT Class: 6
Current world ranking: 7
TT Style: All round
International debut: 2011