Drinkhall heads table tennis team

  • Last Updated: July 5 2012, 16:10 BST

The London 2012 Olympics represents the first step in a plan to see Britain's players competing with the world's elite, according to English Table Tennis Association chief executive Richard Yule.

Paul Drinkhall: Named in GB's squad

A six-player squad has been named by the British Olympic Association for the Games, with Paul Drinkhall and Joanna Parker leading the charge in the singles competitions.

Drinkhall will be joined by Andrew Baggaley and Liam Pitchford for the team event, while Parker will line up alongside Na Liu and Kelly Sibley.

Each member of the party had to utilise host nation qualification places after failing to secure a spot in their own right.

It is a luxury they will not be afforded for the next Olympics, which take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, though Yule does not envisage that being a problem.

"There is no question that table tennis in the UK is improving," he said.

"All of the players selected are on an upward trend in terms of the world rankings, which is encouraging.

"All of them are also professionals, who are good enough to earn money playing in Europe and the UK in a very competitive marketplace.

"There has been a significant improvement and table tennis, according to government statistics, is enjoying a surge in popularity - which bodes well in the future.

"I am quite confident that our targets to qualify people by right for Rio and then to go and be medal contenders four years after is a realistic ambition."

Yule's aims become all the more realistic when you assess the age of the squad that will compete in this year's showpiece; Drinkhall, Pitchford, Parker and Sibley are all under 24.

It is those players that Yule expects to fulfil his aforementioned ambitions, yet he is aware of the challenge they face this summer.

"We have got the talent," he added. "But we are up against the world's strongest sporting nation (China) in their favourite sport.

"They have dominated all of the major events and we understand that, but our goal is to make progress. Our performance plan is geared towards getting players to qualify by right and do some damage at Rio.

"Then, four years later, these players will still be in their prime and we hope they can really be in contention."

Team: Paul Drinkhall, Andrew Baggaley, Liam Pitchford, Joanna Parker, Na Liu, Kelly Sibley