British table tennis star Liam Pitchford has Rio 2016 in his sights as he seeks to replicate his Commonwealth Games success on the Olympic stage.
I was about nine years old when I started playing. There was a lunchtime table tennis club at school, which I went along to with a couple of friends, and it just started from there. Talent scouts watched us when we played school tournaments around the country, and I was invited to some training camps with the national squad when I was about 11. I was playing for England by the time I was 12 and it all took off from there.
I received the scholarship last year and it’s been helping me a lot. I’ve been able to play in more tournaments and improve my ranking. I’m hoping to qualify for Rio 2016 – it’s been a big help as I work towards that.
My first memories are from Athens 2004. I was on holiday with my family and my dad and I would always try to find somewhere with a TV so we could watch what was happening. Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) was still playing then – he was at the end of his career, but I knew how good he had been and he still got to the [men’s singles] bronze medal match. That inspired me. As soon as I reached a decent level at table tennis, I wanted to compete at the Olympic Games myself.
Every morning I wake up and I can see the medals in my bedroom. Looking at them really inspires me to go on and win a gold medal next time. Liam PitchfordGreat-Britain - Liam PitchfordGreat-Britain
The Commonwealth Games have been very special for me because I’ve won five medals. Every morning I wake up and I can see the medals in my bedroom. Looking at them really inspires me to go on and win a gold medal next time.
London was amazing. It was a great atmosphere and an incredible experience for me. It was on a much bigger scale than anything else I’ve competed in. I’ve obviously won medals at the Commonwealth Games, but London still stands out for me. It’s really motivated me to qualify for Rio off my own back, so I can feel like I really deserve to be there.
Qualifying for Rio is my main focus at the moment. Hopefully the British team will qualify as well, if we keep improving. If I qualify to play singles, I think winning a medal would be a long shot, but I suppose anything can happen in table tennis. I’d like to think I could reach the last 16 or the quarter-finals and then see if I can go any further.
My season starts with a physical training camp in Paris. We’ll be doing strength and conditioning, working to get more explosive power in my legs, then I’ll go back to my club in Germany to prepare for the new season. Normally, we practise for about two-and-a-half hours in the morning, and then the same again in the afternoon. That’s Monday to Saturday, and then we do physical training on top of that as well. It’s a pretty long week, but it’s fun when everybody’s in the hall, working hard, and pushing you on as well.