Loftus table tennis ace’s Olympic aim

Paul Drinkhall
Paul Drinkhall

Loftus’ Paul Drinkhall is intent on extending the legacy of one of the slogans of the London Games as he attempts to break the Chinese stranglehold on Olympic table tennis.

Drinkhall has been at the heart of this nation’s rise in table tennis over recent times and alongside Midlands pair Liam Pitchford and Sam Walker, Britain now has a squad hanging on the fringes of medal contention.

The trio secured a shock bronze medal at the world championships in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, while Drinkhall was equally impressive in winning gold at the Rio test event 12 months ago.

Today (Monday) he faces Croatian Andrej Gacina in the third round of the Rio 2016 men’s singles, having already fought his way past Serbia’s Aleksandar Karakasevic and Gao Ning of Singapore.

Like any athlete, a medal is top of the priority list for Drinkhall. But progressing the sport and inspiring the next generation of players, especially at the British base at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, also has its part.

“It’s always something that’s been on my mind,” Drinkhall told the Whitby Gazette.

“I obviously want to achieve the things I have set out to do but I also want to help the sport in the future.

“Even when I stop playing table tennis I want to stay involved and make sure the youngsters get the right opportunities to go in the right direction.”

China have dominated table tennis at every Olympics over the last 28 years.

Since its inception to the Games in 1988, Chinese players have won more than half the medals with 24 of 28 golds captured.

Only South Korea (3) and Sweden (1) have managed to wrestle golds away and that is unlikely to be added to in 2016 with China holding the top-ranked players across both the men’s and women’s game.

But despite their prowess, Drinkhall believes the Chinese players are beatable and that he can be the man to do it.

“At the end of the day they are humans that have trained like we have done,” he said.

“Nobody is unbeatable.

“It’s certain that they are the strongest nation but all the pressure is on them.

“They have been beaten in the past and I think there’s definitely a few players out there that can challenge and beat them again. I’d like to think I was in that bracket.

“Whether it was an Olympic Games or a local league game down the road, or practising on holiday, it’s still the same table and it’s me playing with a bat and ball.

“I can only control the controllables and do the best I can do and try and counteract the uncontrollables as much as possible.

“At the Olympic Games there’s a lot of distractions and it’s about just going out there and playing the match in hand.

“I know it’s going to be very tough but I have to have my targets. The dream is a medal and I definitely think it’s possible. It’s just about getting everything prepared and going my way in Rio.”

Drinkhall, from the small town near Whitby, qualified for London four years ago through the guarantees of being a home competitor and took two scalps before exiting to Germany’s Dimitij Ovtcharov at the last-32 stage.

His performance led him to be approached by German table tennis side Werder Bremen where he played in the table tennis Bundesliga for two years.

The big breakthrough came at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where he won gold alongside wife Johanna and silver in the men’s team competition.

A golden run at the Rio test event last November further pressed Drinkhall’s Olympic claims and he now spearheads the three-strong men’s team that have the confidence of a world medal behind them.

And Drinkhall feels his game is at the top of order to test himself against the best again in Rio.

“I’m more prepared for what’s going to come my way,” said Drinkhall.

“Playing the test event last year I got to know how to deal with an away Games. It was a big boost to know that I can perform out there.

“I’m a little bit smarter in the way I win points and games. I think I am more reliable and a safer player. I can play at my top level more often.

“In London I felt my top level was really high but I wasn’t able to play at it that often. It might have been once a year. Over the last 18 months I have had a very steady level and kept at that.”