The opportunity to play in front of hometown family and friends is spurring on Team GB this week as they host the world’s best Para badminton players at their home venue, the English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Sheffield.
David Jack Wilson, the lone Welshman in the ParabadmintonGB setup, relished playing in his adopted backyard in Sheffield, recording a crucial win on Day 1.
“Probably the best I’ve played in a very long time, at least that’s how it feels,” said Wilson of his 21-15 21-18 SU5 men’s singles win over India’s Chirag Baretha.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever beaten him. Being a home tournament, I was used to the court a bit more. But I’ve also been working more with a nutritionist and a psychologist.
“But everything’s just brilliant here. It’s definitely a top three tournament in terms of how it’s run. How it looks is absolutely beautiful.”
The 4 Nations Para Badminton International is a collaboration between the badminton federations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with each sharing hosting duties during the four-year cycle.
“I live not far from here, so I’ve got family and friends who don’t normally get to see us play supporting us,” said SH6 star Jack Shephard.
“It’s amazing because some of them don’t even believe I play badminton. A lot of our competitions are overseas, so it’s hard for them to watch me play live.”
Shephard’s fellow SH6 player and Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Krysten Coombs said of the special feeling this week: “I’ve been in the sport for such a long time and seeing the sport grow but also seeing Para badminton in England grow has been incredible.
“We’ve got younger ones coming along which is what we need. Myself and other people will slowly start to stop and once we stop, we need people below us.”
One such player is Emma Louise Stoner, who was elevated from the reserves list to the main draw on tournament eve for one of the biggest opportunities of her career.
“I actually came in as a reserve, I wasn’t expecting to play. But super excited to be able to play the best in the world. I don’t get the chance very often, especially on home soil. But it’s just been an incredible experience so far.”
The 4 Nations Para Badminton International 2023 is the final Level 1 event on the World Circuit this year, with several Continental Championships and regional multisport Games still to be contested in 2023.
There’s just eight months remaining in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games qualifying period, with ranking points at a premium.
“This tournament is a big one for me. Paris is obviously the dream and if I can keep doing what I’m doing, that is what the aim is,” said Coombs.
“We’ve still got part of qualifying to go. We’ve just got our heads down, trying to gather as many points as we can, to make sure they all add up and get us on that plane to Paris,” added Shephard.
A total of 300 players are competing in Sheffield this week.
*Reporting in collaboration with Badminton England