ANDREW Baggaley says he and his two British team-mates will have to play the best table tennis of their lives to stand a chance of winning a medal at London 2012 – but that’s exactly what he plans to do.
The 29-year-old from Milton Keynes has been training hard with Middlesbrough’s Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford, from Chesterfield, at Team GB’s training camp in Loughborough, trying to work out a way of challenging the sport’s dominant nations on home soil, having just been issued with their Olympic kits.
Going into the team tournament ranked 13th in the world, the British trio are big outsiders to challenge for honours, but that doesn’t bother Baggaley who is no stranger to causing an upset having picked up five medals from his three Commonwealth Games appearances going back to 2002.
As the most experienced member of the team, Baggaley has played and beaten many of those he will potentially face in the knockout competition at the ExCel – with teams playing four singles matches and one doubles match in a best of five format – but never on the biggest stage of them all.
Having won 18 of the 20 Olympic titles on offer over the last 20 years, China are the overwhelming favourites to dominate in London. Only South Korea in 2004 and Sweden in 1992 have managed to stand in the way of the Chinese whose total of 41 Olympic medals is more than every other nation combined.
South Korea, Japan and Germany – where Baggaley will play his club table tennis next season – make up the world’s top four, but the two-time Commonwealth gold medallist says the beauty of sport is that anything can happen on the day, and he is determined to enjoy the experience.
“If you don’t have belief then you might as well not bother,” he said. “All three of us are capable of beating the best players on our day, but of course in a team event we all need to play the best games of our lives on the same day.
“It could happen though. I have confidence in my team-mates. They’re great players and know how to win. You never know what can happen in sport, that’s why we love it.
“This is the biggest occasion of our careers but we need to treat the games like any other and do our best. If we give it everything we can and play to the best of our ability then that’s all people can ask. Whatever happens after that will take care of itself.”
Drinkhall – who will also play in the men’s singles – and Pitchford will join Baggaley for a pre-Olympic friendly game against Australia in Preston next week after another training camp in Sheffield.
They don’t yet know their first round Olympic opponents and the three will only find out their exact roles in the team the day before the competition begins on the evening of Friday, August 3.
The three will move into the Olympic Village about a week before that, leaving them free to attend the Opening Ceremony on Friday, July 27 – something that Baggaley can’t wait for.
“If I was playing the next day I wouldn’t go, but we have a while to wait so I’ll definitely be going,” he said.
“It may involve standing around for a few hours but this is once in a lifetime stuff. The whole experience has been fantastic. I’ve been really excited in the last few days about getting our kits and suits. They’re fantastic. Now we can’t wait for the action to start.”
While Baggaley dares to dream about winning a medal, and believes they are capable, he is also realistic about their chances, and would be happy leaving London empty-handed as long as the team do themselves justice and put on a good show.
Having been playing professional table tennis since he was 13, Baggaley believes he is enjoying the best years of his career and is looking further than London for more success.
“I think I’m at my peak now,” he said. “I want to be around for a long time yet. I want to go to Rio in 2016 and of course I’ve got the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow before that in 2014.
“I’m also really excited about playing in the Bundesliga next season. Everyone wants to talk about the Olympics which is great but I’ve also got lots more to come. Playing in the best league in Europe is massive for me.
“That said I know it doesn’t get any bigger than this August. The build-up is incredible and we’re getting a lot of attention. The training is tough and it’s all very serious, but enjoyable too. I like playing and I’ve been doing a lot of it.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win a medal but we’re going to give it a real good go, and in sport, anything can happen.”