Olympic ace takes positives from Rio experience

Paul Drinkhall
Paul Drinkhall

Loftus’ Paul Drinkhall believes the future of table tennis in Britain looks bright despite the team’s Rio 2016 coming to an at the quarter-final stage.

Playing alongside Liam Pitchford and Sam Walker, Drinkhall was hoping to spring one of the surprises of the table tennis competition by shocking Olympic champions and heavyweights China.

As big a challenge as that sounded, confidence in the British camp is at an all-time high this year after a bronze at the World Team Championships in March while in the previous round in Rio they successfully saw off France.

But despite a number of spirited performances – including from Drinkhall who took the opening game against Xu Xin before eventually losing 3-1– it was China who prevailed 3-0 overall.

Although Drinkhall believes there are plenty of positives to take from the experience, with his attention already turning to Tokyo 2020 and gaining revenge.

“The response to our performances has been great, we’ve had decent coverage on the TV and I think the sport is definitely on the up,” said Drinkhall, who also reached the fourth round of the men’s singles.

“Our results and the team’s in general are looking good so I think table tennis in Britain is in a good place and hopefully we can keep going.

“We had a tough draw against China but I think we believe that if that happened again in Tokyo we would be able to beat them.

“They’re in a great place now but we’re on the rise, if you like, so Tokyo will be very interesting.

“As a team, we’ve got great team spirit. Individually we’re all improving a lot and then when we come together as a team I think we’ve probably got the best team spirit in table tennis and a real fighting spirit.”

Up first, Pitchford could not have asked for a better start, roaring into a 6-0 lead in the opening clash before taking the first game 11-6.

Ma found his feet in the second though, winning it before a competitive next few games eventually went the way of China as they won 3-1 to nudge ahead in the match.

Next up was Drinkhall and he also started fast, taking the opening game 11-9 before his opponent then rattled off the next three games 11-6 11-6 11-7, again for a 3-1 win.

All was not lost however with the doubles match still offering Britain a way back into the best of five match.

Drinkhall returned to the table alongside Walker but they found themselves two games down against Xu and Jike Zhang before briefly rallying in the third to win 13-11.

But China replied again winning the next game 11-4 to again seal a 3-1 scoreline and with it take the match.

That brings an end to Drinkhall’s Rio adventure with the 26-year-old revealing they were heading straight back to Britain rather than enjoying the sights of Rio.

“We’re actually flying home tonight so we’re straight out. We had two reserved flights, one for tonight and one for the end of the tournament,” he added.

“If we’d beaten China we would have been staying until the end. But obviously it didn’t happen like that.

“So we’ll get home and recharge for next season.”

Aldi is the first Official Supermarket partner of Team GB and has been championing our nation’s extraordinary athletes on their Road to Rio and encouraging the public to tuck into fresh, affordable, Great British food. For more information visit aldi.co.uk