Paul Davies, who won a memorable bronze medal in the men’s class 1 singles at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, has announced his retirement from Para table tennis with immediate effect. The 53 year old Welshman also won medals at World and European level, including team gold in the European Championships in 2013, and represented ParalympicsGB in Rio as well as London.
“The time is right now because I feel that I’ve achieved everything I could achieve in the sport,” said Davies. “I’ve got a lot out of it and met a lot of people; I’ve won medals all around the world and I feel it is time to move on to the next chapter.”
Davies first played table tennis at school and rediscovered the sport at the age of 30 when he started playing again as part of his rehab following a road traffic accident that left him paralysed. An invitation to a ‘Come and Try Day’ gave him the opportunity to try different sports and for three years he played wheelchair rugby until a shoulder injury led to him playing table tennis again at the spinal injuries club in Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff. He was selected to play for Wales in a tournament in Germany and a new career was born.
London 2012 was his Paralympics debut and he nearly raised the roof off the ExCel building with a dramatic five set win against the Korean Chang-Ho Lee to clinch the individual bronze medal in his class. That moment remains the highlight of Davies’s illustrious career.
“Winning that bronze in the ExCel – that for me was life-changing,” he said. “Not just for me but the whole team because me and Will (Bayley) both medalled, the girls won a team medal and the boys as well and I think that was the turning point for British Para table tennis. We’d never won so many medals in the Paralympic Games until then and we did pretty well in Rio but for me London was life changing.”
The following year Davies took silver in the European Championships, losing in the final to his great friend Rob Davies before combining with his fellow Welshman to win gold in the team event. He then missed almost two years due to injury but returned to compete in Rio, where although he did not win a medal but he revived memories of London with a dramatic five set win against the Brazilian Aloisio Lima Junior in his second group match. At 10-5 down in the fifth and with the crowd at fever pitch he looked to be heading for defeat but with all his fighting spirit he levelled at 10-10 and saved a further two match points before clinching the match 14-12.
“I never thought I could have the same feelings as I had in London but when I had to play the Brazilian in Rio against the Brazilian crowd that was loud,” he recalled. “I came out on top and I won that match but the Brazilian crowd got on our side as well. That provided a lot of inspiration and motivation for the team but it’s still never going to be London. To have been to a home Games and an away Games - I’ve had a good time.”
Rob Davies has been a rival and team mate as well as a close friend and the two Welshmen have achieved great success together as a team and in singles, including an historic gold, silver and bronze in the 2017 European Championships with another Welshman Tom Matthews.
“I nurtured him (Rob) after his injury and started showing him how to play the game,” said Davies. “I think I showed him too much because now he is on top which is great. Rob has done really well and I hope that Tom will come through as well and be as successful as I have been. Under the current management there is no excuse. We have the best facility going, the best coaching staff, the best performance staff and it is all there – so grab it by the scruff of the neck and just do it.”
“I’m going to miss the family we have here (at the EIS in Sheffield) but I’m not going to miss getting up at 6am. I will miss the training because I enjoy the training and I enjoy the competitions. I’m 53 now – how many of these lads in the hall are going to be here at 53? I don’t think it will be many. But I’ve had a good time and I wouldn’t change anything that has happened in the past. Life is life and I’m moving on to the next chapter now. Happy days.”
Fiona Reid, CEO of Disability Sport Wales said, “Paul has been an inspiration to many – not just because of his achievements but because of his long-standing career as an athlete. His presence in the sport will be very much missed and we wish him every success in his life after para table tennis”
Nathan Stephens, Disability Sport Wales Performance Pathway officer said “For many years the town of Bridgend has produced many medal winning Paralympians, and Paul was one of them even though he was a Cardiff boy we treat him as one of our own. He has inspired so many individuals from the area to get active and prove that having a disability is not a barrier at all, his bronze medal from London 2012, will continue to inspire for generations, he will be missed from the sport, but I hope that he will continue to promote the benefits that sport can bring to people around wales.”
Anthony Hughes, National Performance Manager, “He was a skilled old-style player that continued his sport for many years. Paul was well known across the World of Para Table Tennis a skilled and a committed team player. I can only wish him all the very best in his very well-deserved retirement.”
Davies epitomised the fighting spirit that has become the hallmark of the British team under Vecko but would like to be remembered for his sportsmanship as much as his never-say-die performances.
“If I could sum up in one word how I would like to be remembered as a table tennis player, it would be fair,” he said. “Be fair on the table, be fair to your opponents and have fair play. Thank you and goodnight.”