Will Bayley: Table tennis champion targets Tokyo medal after Strictly injury

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
I believe in myself - Bayley on Tokyo ambitions

Paralympic table tennis champion Will Bayley says it would be his "biggest achievement in sport'" if he could land a medal in Japan this year.

Bayley, 32, has been out of action since damaging the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in October while performing on Strictly Come Dancing.

He is battling to be fit for the Tokyo Paralympics, which begin on 25 August.

"People will be saying it's impossible, but I believe it is possible," he told BBC Sport.

"On my day I am the best player in the world. I believe in myself and I think that is a massive part of it.

"If you believe you can win on a couple of months' training, you have got half a chance. If you write yourself off, you have no chance.

"It would be my biggest achievement in sport if I could win a medal in Tokyo. It is a long road, but I am in a good place."

Bayley - who was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, which affects all four of his limbs - and Strictly dance partner Janette Manrara were impressing both the judges and the audience with their performances on the BBC show.

Their performances included a memorable and emotional contemporary dance which told the story of his treatment for cancer aged seven, dedicated to the patients and staff of London's Great Ormond Street Hospital.

But his time on the show came to an unfortunate end after he landed awkwardly from a jump during a dress rehearsal for the show - the three-time Paralympian immediately knew it was serious.

Will Bayley and Strictly partner Janette Manrara
Bayley and Manrara's contemporary dance won them rave reviews from the Strictly judges

Bayley had hoped for a quick return but the injury failed to respond as hoped and in January he underwent an operation, further delaying his comeback and leaving him in a race to prove his fitness for Tokyo.

Despite his time on the sidelines, he is still ranked third in the world in his Class 7 category and in a qualifying spot for the Games.

And Bayley, who followed in the footsteps of fellow Paralympians Jonnie Peacock and Lauren Steadman who took part in Strictly in 2017 and 2018 respectively, insists he has no regrets about taking part in the show.

"The whole experience was brilliant. It was a big honour to be asked and the reaction from the public was amazing.

"I'm now known for being on Strictly rather than being a table tennis player, which is strange and something I didn't expect.

"I knew it would give me a new fanbase, which is great and helps to push me on. I feel I have more support now and hopefully they will all be backing me in Tokyo."

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