05 Jun 2021

A truly remarkable journey, Finland’s Aino Tapola has completely outperformed expectations at the Paralympic World Qualification Tournament, deservedly claiming her ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games following a stunning campaign in the Lasko, Slovenia.

by Simon Daish (Interview conducted by Pablo Perez, ITTF Head of Para Table Tennis)

The lowest-ranked entry in the women’s singles class 1-2, Aino Tapola, 23, flew out of the gates with a statement victory over Femke Cobben of the Netherlands (11-7, 11-8, 5-11, 11-9) before making it two wins from two with Israel’s Chagit Yona Brill also falling victim (11-1, 11-7, 11-4). On Saturday 5th June, Tapola continued to show impressive form, accounting for Germany’s Janina Sommer in straight games (11-1, 11-4, 11-5) to reach a new milestone in her career.

Passage to Tokyo complete, a truly sensational story and a day that will live long in the memory for the Finn.

“It feels great to qualify! I know that I am in great shape; I have been working really hard. It was great to be competing against world class players after this long break. I was nervous as I knew everybody else had been competing internationally much longer than I.” Aino Tapola

A keen diver before a life-changing accident in 2012, Tapola has recaptured her passion for sport on the Para table tennis scene, flying up the world standings at a staggering pace!

Making her international debut at the 2018 Spanish Open Sant Cugat del Valles, Tapola has made incredible progress over the past three years and won her first gold medal at the Dutch Open Para in 2019. Now a successful qualifier for Tokyo 2020, Tapola has come a very long way in a short length of time and puts her achievement down to advanced scouting research which she believes hands her a significant edge over her rivals.

“I have been training so much and have been scouting the other players. I think I have been scouting others much more than they have been scouting me because they didn’t think I would succeed in this tournament so I will say training has been key.” Aino Tapola

The last year has presented players across the globe with plenty of hurdles to navigate from tournament rescheduling to training disruption, but fortunately for Tapola the situation in Finland has been somewhat more favourable.

Adapting, with training facilities remaining open in Pajulahti, Tapola has been pushing herself hard over the past 12 months taking full advantage of every opportunity that came her way, hitting the court whenever possible and working on her game for countless hours – the progress is clear for all to see.

“It has been quite good for us in Finland. I have been practising a lot from the last competition, I have been training over 1,000 hours of table tennis and I actually think the Coronavirus situation was good for me. I have been practising a lot and that shows.” Aino Tapola

Overjoyed with her accomplishment in Lasko, Tapola will now take time to rest but it won’t be long before ramps up preparations back home in Pajulahti with the biggest occasion in her sporting career to date, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, commencing on Wednesday 25th August.

“We will have a small holiday when we go back home and then a few camps in Pajulahti, training and scouting the other players from Tokyo. I would like to thank my friend and team partner Anna Pasanen, without her I wouldn’t have even started playing as we started table tennis together, and also my coaches Hannu Sihvo and Martti Autio, they have been doing so much work without any payment or anything, just volunteering.” Aino Tapola

Congratulations to Aino Tapola, who books her place amongst the world’s elite with qualification to Tokyo 2020 secured.

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