Australia aim for home Para table tennis success

Hosts dominate entries for Para Oceania Championships 30 Apr 2019
female Para table tennis player Melissa Tapper plays a forehand

Melissa Tapper heads a strong Australian squad at the Para Oceania Championships

ⒸGetty Images
By Becki Ellsmore | For the IPC

With five upcoming regional championships all with Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games qualification slots up for grabs, this year is set to be a particularly exciting one in the world of Para table tennis. The first of this year's regional events is the biennial 2019 Para Oceania Championships, taking place in Darwin, Australia, from 1-4 May.

The hosts dominate the entries at the Championships with 19 athletes in their chosen squad, and they will be expecting to perform well on home soil. Ones to watch include Melissa Tapper, who won gold in the women’s class 6-8 competition at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which were also held in Australia. Her fellow team member Andrea McDonnell claimed the bronze at the same event.

Tapper has been competing for her country for 15 years and is the first Australian athlete to be selected to compete in both the Paralympic Games and Olympic Games, at Rio 2016. She is currently ranked fifth in the ITTF Para Table Tennis world rankings.

Fellow Australian, and Para sport ambassador, Trevor Hirth, won the men's class 6-7 title at the 2017 Para Oceania Championships but did not progress past the group stages at the World Championships last year. There will be plenty of interest in seeing whether the five-time Australian champion can bounce back to defend his regional title at a home event.

Multi-sport athlete Daniela di Toro is the highest-ranking Australian woman in the wheelchair table tennis classes, where she competes in class 4. She represented Australia in wheelchair tennis at five Paralympics, medalling at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games.

She first started playing table tennis in 2014 and has quickly adapted to her new sport, winning gold in the 2015 Oceania Championships in singles class 3-5, competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, and claiming a bronze medal at the 2017 Oceania Championships

Another home contender, Samuel von Einem, won silver in the men's singles class 11 at Rio 2016, the first Australian male Paralympic table tennis medallist in over 30 years. The 23-year-old will be hoping to follow that up with a sought-after qualification place for Tokyo 2020.

International stars

Although the focus is likely to be on the home team, there are also athletes to look out for from the rest of the region.

Fiji's Merewalesi Vakacegu Roden won gold at the 2017 Oceania Championships, which was held in the city of Suva in her home country.

The class 2-5 athlete is the first, and so far only, non-Australian to win a title at the Championships, and is expected to successfully defend her crown in Darwin. Fiji are currently second in the all-time medal count for the Para Oceania Championships.

New Zealand's Victor Kamizona claimed bronze in men’s class 8-9 and a silver medal in the team class 6-9 event at the 2017 Oceania Championships.

A long-time representative of his country at international level, 59-year-old Kamizona also claimed a bronze medal at the 2015 edition.