By Ben Hart
Will Bayley is an Olympic champion and world number one but still has a point to prove to his harshest critic.
The Tunbridge Wells para table tennis star roared to gold in Rio 2016 and is undefeated in singles matches since claiming silver at Tokyo two years ago.
But despite those efforts Bayley, 35, knows he will have to be at his very best in Paris next summer to please mother Chrissie.
“She said a few years ago that I was obviously not the best player in the world anymore,” said Bayley.
“I completely lost my head when she said that. I called my brother and told him I couldn’t believe it. I was going wild in the car.
“But that showed how much it means because I wasn’t happy. As it came from her, it lit a fire.
“I said to her, ‘I’ll prove to you I’m the best player in the world and I’m going to take everyone out, not just beat people, but beat them badly.’
“She said ‘good, we’ll see.’ She’s got a way of getting the best out of me, sometimes you need someone who can light a spark and I think maybe I needed that at the time.”
Bayley is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for his pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.
Chrissie was a little more appreciative of Bayley’s gold-medal winning display in last year’s World Para Table Tennis Championships, declaring it his ‘best ever performance.’
Unsurprisingly, Bayley attributes his competitiveness to his mother, but it’s a trait which has manifested throughout his everyday life and one which helps to drive him on towards a fifth Paralympic Games.
“I’ve got this new watch and it tells me my sleep score so I try to beat that each night,” he said.
“I’m playing better the older I am because I’m more aware of myself and how things affect me in training.
“I was working like a pig before, I was skinny and super fit but I was super stressed as well..
“Now I’ve got more of a balance, which is important if you’re intense like me. You can go over the top sometimes and you can become desperate then. It’s not fun like that.
“I’m still finding little ways to win all the time. Anyone who has grown up in a competitive family will understand that everything turns into a competition.”
With the Paris 2024 Olympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Bayley hopes that by sharing his story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.
Looking ahead, Bayley is extra determined to go the distance after a combination of a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the Covid-19 pandemic hugely disrupted his preparation for Tokyo 2020.
“The fire is still there,” added the former Strictly Come Dancing star.
“I still think I’m the best player in the world. I still want to win it and I’m extra motivated because of that loss, it’s keeping me going.
“I’ve done it on all the smaller stages between now and Tokyo, let’s hope I can do it on the biggest stage of all.”
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