Australia’s Paralympic table tennis hopefuls have begun their battle for a spot on the 2020 Paralympic Team tonight at the Arafura Games.
While competition has been friendly for all sports thus far, the heat has been turned up for Para-table tennis athletes, with competition doubling up as the ITTF Oceania Regional Table Tennis qualifiers.
Despite just five countries contesting the event, competition is set to be tough. With so few numbers entered into the tournament, athletes will compete in mixed class competition and only four gold medals will be up for grabs.
At stake though, is more than gold medals. At stake is qualification spots for each country.
Group matches began tonight, with most Australians competing against each other.
“There’s been quite a buzz through the team,” said Melissa Tapper, Australia’s only athlete to compete at both the Paralympic and Olympic Games.
“Everyone is excited just to be together and although the majority of competition is Australians competing against each other with just a few of the Oceania countries, everyone is behind each other which has been great.
“We’re here as a team but we’re also fighting hard in every match just to do as well as we possibly can.”
Tapper (class 10) defeated compatriot Rebecca Julian (class 6) in a 3-0 victory (11-9, 11-7, 12-10).
“I don’t think I’ve played Bec in a major comp for quite a while now. Growing up we played quite a lot but it’s been few and far between, so it was nice to get out there and have a hit with Bec.”
Rio Paralympian Andrea McDonnell (class 10) also outshone fellow Townsville local and Australian debutant, Christine Wolf (class 8) in three sets (11-7, 11-9, 11-7).
Wolf, a Paralympic gold medallist in long jump, has recently come out of retirement and transitioned to her new sport.
“I was a bit nervous at the beginning. I do play Christine up in Townsville a little bit. It’s club mate against club mate but I played pretty good,” McDonnell said.
“It’s a really important competition for Oceania. All those slots up for grabs for Tokyo 2020. I’d love to get a spot but I just have to play my best here because it’s really important.
Wolf, who put up a fight, commended McDonnell for her play and her win.
“She is such a good player. I like to play against really good players because I know that I can show how well I can play, without the pressure of wanting to or being able to win (due to the class difference). It’s always enjoyable.”
The debutant also commented on the nerves she felt from her first international competition since she won gold in Beijing 2008 in athletics.
It’s a completely different world to be honest. It reminds me of my old experience, my past experience with athletics but it is a completely different one. I feel like I’m starting from scratch a little, and in reality I am,” she said.
“I still feel the pressure even though you feel more pressure when you play against someone you can potentially beat. I’ve made a few mistakes, and I know what they are, and that’s of course where you move forward.”
In other results tonight, the men’s sitting class saw Adelaide’s Caleb Crowden (class 4) defeat Shadrack Timothy from the Solomon Islands (class 3) 3-0, while Junjian Chen (class 3) took down New Zealand’s Patrick Todman (class 3) in three sets as well.
The men’s standing event saw all Australians victorious. Nathan Pellisier (class 8) did not drop a set in two matches. Pellisier found himself against compatrior Jake Ballestrino (class 7) in his first match, winning 3-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-3) and continued his success taking down New Zealand’s Matthew Ryan (class 8) 11-9, 11-6, 11-7).
Trevor Hirth (class 6) defeated Connor Holdback, (class 6) 3-1 and defeated John Tauni Christopher from Fiji (class 6) in three sets. Joel Coughlan (class 10) also walked away with two wins against Victor Kamizona from New Zealand and Lotili Loamanu from Tonga.
Competition will resume tomorrow at 10am at the Marrara Indoor Stadium, with finals taking place in the evening.
By Sascha Ryner, Paralympics Australia Media