Kelly van Zon arrived in Tokyo as one of the Paralympians to look out for and did not disappoint.
In the thrilling women's singles class 7 final held on Monday (30 August), the Dutch legend staged a memorable comeback 3-2 win over the Russian Paralympic Committee's (RPC) Viktoriia Safonova. Van Zon won the first set 11-8, but Safanova took the following two 11-3, 11-4.
Yet in a great display of mental toughness and grit, van Zon secured the final two 11-5, 11-8 to claim her third successive Paralympic gold medal.
“My feeling is great. It was a tough match and I knew that this was going to happen and she was leading 2-1 and I was like, ‘Come on Kelly, now you really have to go and play table tennis,’" van Zon said.
“I was playing more table tennis in the end. I was not afraid, she could not push me back from the table, and she was doing that in the beginning and my coach said, ‘Kelly, stay close to the table.’ I knew it because my block is good and I could return her serve better so that made the difference. And some luck and some positive energy."
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Van Zon admitted being so close to winning her third straight Paralympic gold added extra pressure on her. "That's why my tension was also so high. You always feel the pressure but you want it and I kept on fighting.”
Australia's long wait comes to an end
Australia waited 37 years to win a Paralympic table tennis gold medal. Then they grabbed two in little more than an hour.
Terry Biggs had won the country's last gold in 1984, but Lei Li Na and Yang Qian enjoyed a magical 60 minutes at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to end that barren streak in style.
Lei got the ball rolling, beating Chinese Xiong Guiyan 3-2 in the women’s singles class 9.
In the following final, Yang ousted Brazilian Bruna Costa Alexandre (BRA) 3-1 to win the women’s singles class 10.
“Going into today I was feeling nervous because the first two finals involving Australians we lost,” Yang said.
“When Li Na won today I breathed a sigh of relief. I was like, 'Please don’t let us have four silvers from four finals'. I’m very happy to represent Australia.”