Welshman Paul first played table tennis at school and rediscovered the sport at the age of 30 when he started playing again as part of his rehab following a road traffic accident that left him paralysed. “Table tennis is good for co-ordination,” he explains. “I’m tetraplegic and I wasn’t sure how to hold the bat so they strapped it to my hand. I hit a few balls and they landed on the table and that’s how I got started. At first it was purely rehab and when I left the spinal unit it took me five years to adjust to life in a wheelchair.”
An invitation to a ‘Come and Try Day’ gave him the opportunity to try different sports and for three years he played wheelchair rugby until a shoulder injury led to him playing table tennis again at the spinal injuries club in Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff. Paul was selected to play for Wales in a tournament in Germany and a new career was born. Originally self-funded through Wales he has now been part of the GB system since 2008.
London 2012 was his Paralympics debut and he nearly raised the roof of the ExCel building with a dramatic win to clinch the individual bronze medal in his class. “The buzz and excitement of London was incredible,” he said. “My match was the last to finish and hearing 6,000 people shouting my name was incredible – if only I could bottle that! The goal now is Rio. I’m mad for it; I’m training hard and very focused.”
Wheelchair table tennis presents a unique challenge on which Paul thrives. “Each level of disability and class has its own style of playing,” he explains. “Class 1 is about control, discipline and skill. You are playing against the disability of your opponent and he is doing the same – it sounds cruel but that is what happens. It is like chess – you have to outmanoeuvre and outsmart the other person.”
Paul enjoyed another successful season in 2013 culminating in the European Championships in Italy where he took the silver in the men’s class 1 singles – losing to great friend and teammate Rob Davies in the final – and then combined with Rob to win gold in the team event.
Paul recovered from a broken leg during the winter to come back in 2014 and win individual medals in Slovenia and Slovakia and take gold in the team event with Rob in both tournaments. He missed the chance to add a World Championship medal to his collection in 2014 and defend his European team title in 2015 through injury but returned to competition in May 2016, beating the World number two Jean-Francois Ducay to reach the final in Slovenia.
Despite his lack of match practice Paul reached the quarter-finals of the men’s class 1 singles in Rio, losing to the Korean KiWon Nam. “I gave it my all and enjoyed the experience and I’m looking forward now to next season,” he said.
Paul’s wife Debbie was his greatest supporter and shared his pride in his bronze medal in London but tragically she passed away soon after returning from Rio. Their son Jonathan played table tennis for Wales U21 and has also travelled with Paul to international competitions.
In 2017 Paul won bronze in the World Team Championships with fellow Welshman Tom Matthews and was then part of an historic one-two-three for GB in the men’s class 1 singles at the European Championships in Slovenia, taking bronze after losing to Rob Davies in the semi-finals.
“He (Rob) deserved to win but I think I pushed him to get that win today,” said Paul. “We got the one, two, three and that has never happened before so happy days. A lot of people questioned if I would come back after last year and of course I wanted to come back. To perform here like I have done – I never thought I could do that – so it would be silly to stop now. I’m not finished yet – no way.”
Paul returned to competition in September 2018 at the Czech Open and was disappointed to go out in the group stages at the World Championships the following month after losses to Endre Major from Hungary and the Argentinian PanAmerican bronze medallist Guillermo Bustamante Sierra.
“I wasn’t at my best,” admitted Paul. “It just didn’t click for me today. He (Bustamante Sierra) was the better player and you can’t take that away from him. The loss I had earlier wasn’t the best either – so it’s back to the drawing board. I’ve got to work a bit harder but no excuses – they played better on the day and deserved to win.”
In coach Neil Robinson, Paul has the benefit of advice from one of GB’s most successful Paralympians. “He’s the best coach on the planet,” says Paul. “He’s been there and done it and being in a wheelchair as well he knows how I feel. We didn’t click at first because we both had our own views but we’ve come together now and he’s fantastic. He could still play internationally today.”
Take 5 with Paul:
Most admired sportsman – Muhammad Ali
Sporting event you would most like a ticket for- Rugby World Cup
Place in the world you would most like to visit – Brisbane, Australia as my eldest brother and family live there and I’ve never been able to visit them
Hobbies: cars, computers, family and my dog Max
What’s on your ipod – Lionel Richie, Olly Murs, Adele, Neil Diamond
and finally – Paul’s alternative occupation would be a website designer
European Championships, Sweden – group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Czech Open – group stages, men’s singles (class 1); QF, men’s teams (class 1-2)
Slovenia Open – L16, men’s singles (class 1); group stages, men’s teams (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – group stages, men’s singles (class 1); group stages, men’s teams (class 1)
World Championships, Slovenia – group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Czech Open – group stages, men’s singles (class 1); group stages, men’s teams (class 1-2)
Belgian Open – silver, men’s singles (class 1)
European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1); QF, men’s singles (class 1)
World Team Championships, Slovakia – bronze, men’s class 1
Slovenia Open – silver, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – QF, men’s singles (class 1); QF, men’s teams (class 1-2)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1); QF, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovenia Open – silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – gold men’s teams (class 1); silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovenia Open – gold men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
2017: European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1)
World Team Championships, Slovakia – bronze, men’s class 1
2013: European Championships, Lignano, Italy – gold, men’s teams (class 1); silver, men’s singles (class 1)
2012: Paralympic Games, London – bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
2011: European Championships, Split, Croatia – silver, men’s teams (class 1)
Further results available at http://www.ipttc.org/players/men/paul_davies/index.htm
Date and place of birth: 12/10/1966, Bridgend
Home town: Bridgend
Lives: North Cornelly
Family: Son Jonathan, labrador Max
TT Class: 1
Current world ranking: 15
TT Style: Shakehand grip, all-round controlled and attack
International debut: 1995, Germany
Major titles: European team champion 2013