by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Both were very much of one voice as they watched Brazilian players, urged forward by a fanatical crowd give their all for the cause. Equally they were both respectful and praiseworthy of those who had travelled from foreign shores, those who had changed the word disability to ability.
“The atmosphere is tremendous and I think the whole sporting family, everybody present, is happy”, said Andrew Parsons who, like myself was enthralled by the action; hard fought but in the true spirit of sport.
“Table Tennis is easy to understand, eight tables it’s easy to follow the matches; you see so many different styles, there is always something of interest”, added Andrew Parsons. “We have high hopes for Bruna Alexandre and Daniella Rauen but importantly we now have more and more players who are reaching the latter stages and are competing against the best.”
Both Bruna Alexandre and Daniella Rauen are through to the semi-final stage of their respective categories; Bruna Alexandre in Class10, Daniella Rauen in Class 9.
“The players are responding, we took over the responsibility for Para Table Tennis in 2008; at the World Para Championships in Montreux in 2006 Brazilian players won just four matches in total”, said Alaor Azevedo. “At last year’s Para Pan American Games in Toronto, Brazil won a total of 27 medals, table tennis won 11 of them!”
There is undoubted progress, as an increasing refined training programme is put in place; the Standing Class players are based in Piricicaba, the Wheelchair athletes in Brasilia. They are full-time players being able to practise six hours each day.
National Olympic Centre
A quite ideal situation but it is set to become even better; two months ago a National Olympic Centre was opened in São Paulo, the most populous city in the whole of the American continent being a one hour flight from Rio de Janeiro.
“The premises occupy some 135,000 square metres, three gyms, 15 sports will be based there with accommodation available at 208 bed hotel located on the campus”, stressed Alaor Azevedo. “We will have a full-time training centre with 15 table and all the support facilities.”
Presently, no events have been held at the centre but it is anticipated that it will be the home for the 2017 Brazil Open; no doubt further events will follow.
Change of thinking
Clearly, the premises will prove a major asset and now there is a change of thinking.
“At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing when Welder Knaf and Luis Silva won silver, it was a surprise”, explained Andrew Parsons. “What was once unexpected is now expected; of course gold is the ultimate goal but increasing the number of medals won is also important.”
Detailed planning in place, a close working relationship between Andrew Parsons and Alaor Azevedo, the future most certainly looks bright.
Medals in Rio de Janeiro; it is more than possible but what about Tokyo in 2020? The haul may well be even greater and the colour even brighter.