“Everyone going to this European Championships has played Championships before and everyone have a chance to win medals either in the single competitions or in the team events or in both."
Having the ability to defend a title is a sign of a true champion.
It is one of the toughest objectives in sport for any athlete, with several obstacles to overcome.
The expectation of the crowds, the improvement of younger, rising athletes, the intense pressure to win again.
But another sign of a true champion is to not feel pressure, but to play at ease.
Meet Anna-Carin Ahlquist, a fearless Swede, ranked No. 1 in the world in Class 3 as she will try to defend her ITTF Para-Table Tennis European Championship title in Italy, Lignano this month.
The right-handed London 2012 Paralympic champion has been dealing with pressure all her life. Even more so when she defeated Austria’s Doris Mader in straight sets at the ExCeL Arena to win gold in her second Paralympic experience last year.
The gold medal put Ahlquist into the world’s media spotlight and when others may have shied away, she has continued to excel after London.
This season, Ahlquist has added gold medals to her resume at the Slovenian Open, a double gold in the Bayreuth Open in Germany, and she has already tasted major success in Lignano, with another two golds in the Master Open.
So, it appears pressure is not something that will deter her attempt to retain her European crown at the Championships in Lignano, which run from 29 September – 5 October.
“I don´t actually feel any extra pressure,” she said. “It´s a new year and a new Championship that everyone has been preparing for. The competition is holding very high standards and you have to work hard all the time to keep that high level.”
The likeable Swede clearly has a special connection with the European Championships, as a mention of two years ago in Split, sparks out a deep lining of emotion.
“The European Championships in Split in 2011 were very emotional for me,” Ahlquist said. “It was my best moment in these Championships.
“I had my whole family there. I played good, and I won gold. To have my family, friends and teammates alongside me that day was a fabulous feeling. To hear my country’s national anthem during the prize ceremony made me feel like I had never felt before.”
Her top challengers at the Championships will be world No. 3 Alena Kanova of Slovakia and No. 5 Mateja Pintar of Slovenia.
Although Ahlquist is No. 1 in the Class 3 world rankings, she is not just concerned with looking after her ranking; she is keen for the whole Swedish team to show their strength.
The team, coached by Daniel Ellermann, will aim to better their finish from the last edition of the event, when they won five golds, one silver and one bronze.
“I think we have had quite a strong team the last couple of years,” Ahlquist said. “Everyone going to this European Championships has played Championships before and everyone have a chance to win medals either in the single competitions or in the team events or in both.
“I think everyone in our team has a big chance of winning medals. For the first time we will have a team in men’s Class 9. They have done really well this year and it will be interesting to see what they can accomplish in Italy.
The complete Swedish team for the European Championships includes:
Robert Andersson, Class 4
Emil Andersson, Class 8
Fabian Rignell, Class 8
Linus Karlsson, Class 9
Tobias Andersson, Class 9
Anna-Carin Ahlquist, Class 3
Ingela Lundback, Class 5
Josefin Abrahamsson, Class 8
Marleen Rose Meier, Class 8
Alexander Ohgren, Class 3