Alvaro Valera is seeking to re-capture the gold medal he won at Sydney 2000. Although that was a while back, the 29-year-old Spanish table tennis player channels confidence from his experience, as Rio 2016 will be his fifth Paralympic Games.
At London 2012, Valera lost in the finals to Thailand’s current world No. 3 Rungroj Thainiyom. At Rio 2016, expect to see a different Valera, both physically and mentally.
“The main difference is that I am older and physically weaker due to my degenerative condition,” Valera said. “I have to focus more on my strategy and technique to compensate my loss of power. On the other hand, I feel more experienced and confident on these Games so I expect a good performance.”
Valera is ranked No. 1 in the men’s singles class 6, where players have impairments affecting both arms and legs and play standing. It includes, for example, athletes with ataxia, athetosis or hypertonia which affects the legs and the playing arm. These impairments impact the balance and the quality of strokes.
As Valera’s physical condition has changed, so has his game and preparation. He has adapted to continue his high level of play and maintain his world No. 1 position.
“Like every Paralympics, the preparations are very intense,” Valera said. “You have got to train fiercely to reach your optimum level for the Games. Since my condition has worsened, I can´t train as many hours as before. I have deep pains that I need to handle my training. I need to focus on quality time, since quantity is not an option for me anymore. My biggest challenge in Rio is this, to be able to overcome my physical loss and still perform at maximum level.”
In competitions before Rio 2016, Valera faced Denmark’s world No. 2 Peter Rosenmeier in the finals of the 2014 World Championships and the 2015 European Championships, taking gold on both occasions. However, should they face off in Rio, the story might be different.
“It would be a great pleasure for me [to meet Rosenmeier in the finals],” Valera said. “First, because it will mean I am in the final. And of course, because playing Peter is always exciting and a big challenge. He is an amazing player with great talent and personality. I will need to display my best game to beat him and bring the gold on my neck back to Spain.”
Valera has witnessed the sport evolve both on the competitive and institutional levels.
“Paralympic table tennis level has improved significantly in the last years,” Valera said. “All the classes are much stronger and players are outstanding. Winning medals has become a really big challenge and our sport is becoming a reference in the Paralympic world. It’s an honour to be part of this and to represent my country at Rio 2016.”
Para table tennis competition at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games included 29 medals events and will be contested from 8-17 September at the Riocentro-Pavillion 3.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.