“I felt very grateful for the amazing gold, which pays off for all the hard work.”
Spectators packed the Spektrum Vejle arena in Denmark, watching one of the most anticipated table tennis matches of the year, as Spain’s Alvaro Valera and home favourite Peter Rosenmeier battled in finals.
The showdown pitted the world’s top-ranked men’s class 6 players vying for the 2015 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Para-Table European Championships crown. And it was defending world champion Valera leaving victorious, making this No. 36 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of the year.
“It was a very close match and super intense due to the Danish crowd, which was roaring ferociously,” Valera said. “[It was a] beautiful atmosphere indeed.”
Valera and Rosenmeier traded the first two games, and Valera appeared to have the momentum after taking the third 11-5. But Rosenmeier – the defending European champion – stayed alive in the fourth with a 14-12 win to force a fifth and final game.
But Valera, who was coming off a successful 2014 season, took crown from Rosenmeier with the 11-7 victory.
“I felt very grateful for the amazing gold, which pays off for all the hard work,” Valera said. “After so many years of competition and a degenerative disease, keeping the results is a big challenge [but victories like these] inspire me and fuels my drive for training hard.”
The victory cemented Valera’s position at No. 1 in his class and holds Rosenmeier at No. 2. But it all sets up for an interesting moment come the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Thailand’s defending Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom is also fresh off a regional title at the Asian Championships held in October in Jordan, Amman.
Thainiyom, ranked No. 3 in the world, swept Valera at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Rosenmeier left with the bronze. But come Rio 2016, a rematch can be expected and the results to be even tighter.
“If feel on fire,” Valera said. “Gold in Rio comes to Spain.”
In the women’s equivalent, Croatia’s Sandra Paovic showed no trouble defending her world title with a 3-0 sweep against Ukraine’s London 2012 silver medallist Antonina Khodzynskaya. The victory reinforces Paovic’s push for her first Paralympic medal.
With her first international para competition only two years ago, Paovic’s win in Denmark marked her third major tournament gold.
“I felt relaxed and I just let my hand go,” Paovic said after the victory. “I am really proud with how I played.”
Paovic won a total of four international singles titles in her first year in para-table tennis, including gold at the 2013 European Championships. Her winning streak continued in 2014, taking the podium at four more international events and claiming the world title.
“I was perfect for the whole season,” Paovic added. “Some matches were more difficult, but my whole season was really good.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.