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Smash & grab? Ping-pong doc chases Tokyo dream

Table tennis ace who worked through pandemic has chance to earn a late Paralympics spot

03 June, 2021 — By Steve Barnett

Whittington doctor Kim Daybell is bidding to reach his third Paralympic Games. PHOTO: ITTF

THE tension will be palpable this week when ping-pong ace Kim Daybell takes to the table in “a winner takes all” challenge to reach the Paralympic Games.

Daybell, who works as a junior doctor at the Whittington Hospital in Archway, is one of seven British Para table tennis players taking part in the World Qualification Tournament in Slovenia.

Running until Saturday, the three-day competition is his final chance to reach Tokyo after missing out on automatic qualification for the Paralympic Games on his world ranking in men’s class 10.

But while his British teammates have been training full-time since last August, Daybell has only recently returned to playing at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield after spending the past 15 months working on the NHS frontline during the pandemic.

Acknowledging that his preparation has been far from ideal, the 28-year-old said: “I’m not where I want to be right now, so close to a big tournament.

“I’d like to have more hours of training under my belt but you can’t change the situation.

“I’m just pleased to be in a position where I can be there and play, after the year that I’ve had personally. Just to be there, physically fit and with a chance of doing well, is enough for me, so I’m looking forward to it.

“I think it will be a good tournament and good for Para table tennis, so hopefully we can put on a good show after so long away.”

Daybell was born with Poland’s syndrome, a rare condition characterised by underdevelopment or absence of the chest muscle on one side of the body. That hasn’t stopped him reaching the highest echelons of the table tennis world, however. He represented Team GB at London 2012 and Rio 2016, and won a silver medal for England at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

And having now been kept away from the table for well over a year, Daybell has had plenty of time to reflect on what the sport means to him.

“If anything, the last 15 months have made me feel more grateful for sport – being at work and dealing with such a serious situation has made me realise how important sport is to me and to the rest of the country and how it is a release for a lot of people,” he said.

“I missed it a lot and I feel very privileged to still be able to play, and very grateful to UK Sport and to the British team here in Sheffield that they have supported me through everything.”

With the pandemic still casting doubts as to whether the Tokyo Games – scheduled for August – will even go ahead, Daybell added: “It would mean the world to me and offer some closure after what has been a really difficult year, to have something positive at the end of it.

“I hope the Games can go ahead safely. There is a lot of chatter and concern surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics at the moment, which is justifiable, but I think it can be done safely and I’d love to be there.”

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