I first represented Great Britain as a 15-year-old in Oslo at the Norwegian Open in May 2005 alongside a doubles partner by the name of Paul Karabardak – the well-known sprightly good-looking young fellow from South Wales. Since then, the team has recently added the indomitable Scotsman, Martin Perry, and this week in Bratislava, following our European final appearance in 2015 and nearly 12 years on from our first outing, we became World Team Championship medallists!
It is ironic that the time we manage to win another major medal is the time we are probably the least well-prepared. Since Rio, my arm situation is still giving me problems (I always knew I had a screw loose but it seems possible that a screw in my arm may literally have come loose this time), my hip x-rays are showing continued deterioration and a double hip replacement is seemingly inevitable at some point, and, as if that wasn't enough, my pacemaker needs changing over too! Oh and PK trumped everything by writing himself off completely when breaking his foot in the final in Italy! What a pair. The challenge is to manage the body and try to put things off as long as possible…at least until after Tokyo.
Paul was to meet us straight out in Slovakia but the rest of the team intended to use the Slovenian Open at the beginning of the month as a ‘warm-up' event and we arrived in Lasko five days prior to the tournament for a pre-competition training camp. Incidentally, this will be the same venue for the European Championships later this year. I hadn't been able to train all that much and it was good to get some games under my belt but unfortunately it didn't really play out as intended as I ended up rendering myself completely on the sidelines (the knee this time) during the semi-final stage of the tournament against our old friend Valera. I am astounded I was able to play so well to reach the semi-finals in the first place but never before have I had to pull out and be carried off court mid-match…and hopefully never again. The match itself was otherwise pretty close!
Wetherill bt Pino Lorca (CHI) 3-1 (-8,9,3,4)
Wetherill bt Simion (ROU) 3-2 (10,-10,-8,6,8)
Wetherill bt Omelchuk (UKR) 3-0 (8,7,4)
QF Wetherill bt Jozic (CRO) 3-1 (-8,9,11,7)
SF Valera (ESP) bt Wetherill 3-1 (-8,5,6,W/O)
I'd like to say now a huge thankyou to our Physio (Jason) for his help in Slovenia and his time and effort in travelling back to Prievdza afterwards to help get me playable for the World Teams. I've damaged the ligaments around my knee and the cartilage is not what it used to be so I pretty much spent the whole week bed-bound or in the gym and I only managed a grand total of about half an hour on the table. However, it meant I was able to at least stand and play once we arrived in Bratislava. Aside from singles, I've not had many opportunities to play team competitions in the past so these are events that I now really look forward to. Needless to say, neither PK nor I had trained as much as we'd have liked in the run-up so it's great that we now have another up-and-coming player in Martin to call upon too.
The competition itself played out as the greatest team experience of my career so far. Paul and I were a little rusty, I think, in our first match against Slovakia – we lost the doubles before I thankfully somehow scraped through 3-2 in the deciding singles. These wins are sometimes more satisfying than when you actually play well so it was great to continue the feeling of grinding out results.
The following day I had a great training session in the morning with Sasa and we were much better in the evening; our team spirit really saw us through and we managed to avenge our 2015 European Championship final defeat to Denmark. I was even able to defeat the Gold medallist from Rio but really aggravated my knee somewhat in the process. It made my subsequent matches a bit more difficult but we were able to comfortably get past Chile the next morning and qualify for the SF, thereby assuring ourselves a medal.
In the semi-final against Croatia, PK and I probably played the best doubles we have ever played but unfortunately we just didn't have enough in the tank to win our singles matches. It's frustrating because I lost to Jozic, who I had beaten just two weeks previously, and PK lost to Gregorovic, who he had beaten in the final in Italy. It is the most pain I've ever fought on a table tennis table and, in the circumstances, to think we still came so close fighting for each other, it feels like Gold. A big thanks to Martin in the corner; throughout all our matches his support was second to none and I am sure he would have stepped in and done the job for us too. Thanks also to Sasa, for being a top coach, the rest of the GB team for all their support, and thanks to my sponsors Uniserve and LCP Consulting for helping me become the athlete I am…this medal is for you guys.
R1: GBR bt SVK 2-1
Nagy/Csemy bt Wetherill/Karabardak 3-2 (8,-5,9,-7,9)
Karabardak bt Nagy 3-0 (5,11,9)
Wetherill bt Csemy 3-2 (-7,-5,3,6,10)
R2: GBR bt DEN 2-1
Rosenmeier/Jensen bt Karabardak/Perry 3-1 (5,6,-8,10)
Wetherill bt Rosenmeier 3-1 (7,10,-6,7)
Karabardak bt Jensen 3-2 (-7,-4,8,6,3)
R3: GBR bt CHI 2-0
Wetherill/Karabardak bt Pino Lorca/Dettoni 3-0 (6,3,3)
Karabardak bt Pino Lorca 3-1 (-6,6,2,6)
SF: CRO bt GBR 2-1
Wetherill/Karabardak bt Jozic/Gregorovic 3-0 (9,7,8)
Jozic bt Wetherill 3-2 (9,3,-12,-5,10)
Gregorovic bt Karabardak 3-1 (6,8,-3,11)
Moving forward, my arm feels okay but I still can't walk properly so it's looking like I will have to spend the next few weeks in rehab-mode before the guys decide whether I can play in the German Open at the end of June. To be honest, it's a tournament that would be good to play even if I am not fully prepared once again…the match practice will again be invaluable as we build towards the Europeans. I've come to realise that maybe, as a Paralympian, you may never really be fully 100% and being able to deal with extra injuries is part of optimising your performance these days. There is the opportunity to spend a lot more time either in Sheffield or in Prievidza with Sasa and I'm confident that I will be able to peak in time for the Europeans – aside from Worlds singles qualification, that's always been the big one we are aiming for this year.
Photo credits: ITTFWorld, so-tabletennis, PTT Slovenian Open, Dave Cochrane, Martin Perry.
|Aug:||Slovenia training camp|
|Sep:||European Championships – Slovenia|