Will Bayley treads fine line between passion and gamesmanship in hunt for gold at Tokyo Paralympics

The Tunbridge Wells man, who claimed gold at Rio 2016, let his emotions out after advancing to the gold medal match at Tokyo 2020

James Toney
Saturday 28 August 2021 09:27
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<p>Will Bayley celebrates in the Singles Class 7 at Tokyo 2020 </p>

Will Bayley celebrates in the Singles Class 7 at Tokyo 2020

Will Bayley prides himself on being a showman but there better be a podium topping encore after this display at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Five years ago, after claiming table tennis gold in Rio, he clambered onto the table, arms outstretched like Christ the Redeemer, while bemused officials frantically tried to coax him down. He then danced a gleeful jig, while the table shuddered, earning him a celebrity agent and a call-up from Strictly.

After winning his semi-final this morning, Bayley tore around the arena, kicking the hoardings and bellowing at the top of his voice, the sort of behaviour that would get a very stern ticking off from head judge Len.

A less than impressed official brandished a yellow card - Bayley knows the line for a straight red - while his beaten opponent, China’s Liao Keli, looked less than impressed.

There’s a fine line between passion and gamesmanship and Bayley certainly treads it. Either way, on return home to Kent, he might expect a strongly-worded letter from ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ - his hometown.

It’s also tough to know what comes next, a win is surely the minimum standard, perhaps removing his shirt and reeling away wide-eyed like Agueroooooooo?

The 33-year old won the first two games against his final four opponent before hitting snooze, Liao levelling to take the match into a decider that Bayley finally closed out in 53 minutes. Another Chinese rival awaits in Sunday’s final, 2016 bronze medallist Yan Shuo.

Will Bayley celebrates in the Singles Class 7 at Tokyo 2020

“That was pure relief,” said Bayley. “I thought I’d throw it away and that was really going through my mind.

“I showed some real guts at the end and I played some really big points because he didn’t stop coming at me. I was expecting him to stop playing so well but he didn’t - after two sets down he just blew me away, so it was difficult.

“He’s improved so much; he is not the same player I played in Rio, he is a better player now. He is a really world class and I knew I was going to have to be at my best. I managed to win but it was so hard.”

Bayley wouldn’t have been in Japan if the Paralympics were held last year, the knee injury he picked up while contesting the Glitterball Trophy, tearing his cruciate ligament and all of his meniscus, needing surgery.

However, he insists his preparations had run smoothly since, dropping just three games in four matches here this week.

“I haven’t taken my foot off the gas – I want to try and create history and that would be a great achievement if I could win gold again,” he added.

“I’ve had a world-class preparation and I feel great. I’m firing on all cylinders and I feel like I’m playing the best of my career. I couldn’t have asked for more in the last year – it’s been amazing, I’ll have no excuses and no stone has been left unturned.

Will Bayley celebrates in the Singles Class 7 at Tokyo 2020

“I know about all the best players ever and I look at the history books – I know who’s won what.

“The best player is probably Jochen Wollmert (five gold medals between 1996 and 2012), but I’m a long way off. If I achieve three golds it would be an amazing achievement. That’s the sort of target that I’m aiming for.”

Four British players had a shot at making table tennis gold medal matches in Tokyo today but the others fell short in their classes, Jack Spivey Hunter, Thomas Hunter and Paul Karabardak all banking bronze medals for their efforts.

Sainsbury’s is a proud supporter of ParalympicsGB and a champion of inclusive sport for all. Sainsbury’s commitment to helping customers to eat better has been at the heart of what we do since 1869. For more information on Sainsbury’s visit www.sainsburys.co.uk/ and https://paralympics.org.uk/

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