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Grantham table tennis coach Gavin Evans is heading to the Olympic Games in Paris

Excitement is building for Grantham table tennis coach Gavin Evans as he makes the final preparations for his first Olympic Games.

Evans has been named as team leader by Table Tennis England for the Paris showpiece which gets underway later this month.

He is currently head of performance development with the sport's governing body after honing his coaching talents at Grantham College.

Gavin Evans
Gavin Evans

Evans was head coach of the college's highly-acclaimed table tennis academy before moving onto his current role where he was part of Team England for the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Speaking to Table Tennis England, he said: "It is really exciting and we've had an amazing journey to get to this stage.

"The preparation is going really well and I'm really excited for the Games to see how it goes.

"We're all super excited. We've got an amazing support team around us and we've got great sparrers coming in from around the world to support the athletes in their preparation.

"It's a really nice time to be alive."

Evans and his team are currently putting the players through their final paces at a five-week training camp at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

They then head out to France later next week for a holding camp in Reams before entering the Olympic village on July 23.

The table tennis action begins at the Games on July 27, a day after the opening ceremony, with the early stages of the men's and women's singles and the mixed doubles. The medal matches are on August 3 and 4 and the team events start on August 5.

Anna Hursey and Liam Pitchford will be flying the flag for Team GB in what will be a historic moment for both athletes as they compete in their respective singles competitions.

Gavin Evans (left) with Liam Pitchford
Gavin Evans (left) with Liam Pitchford

Pitchford, who qualifies by virtue of his world ranking, will be attending his fourth Games – the first GB table tennis athlete to achieve that feat - and Evans feels he has the potential to challenge for a medal.

He commented: "It is a really exciting time for Liam. He's been to three Olympic Games and, on his day, he is capable of anything.

"He's just got back from a shoulder injury after an extensive period of rehabilitation. He looks fit and strong and has got the bit between his teeth.

"Liam has beaten players inside the top 10 this year so it shows that, when he meets his A game, he can really perform.

"We know what Liam is capable of. He can beat anyone in the world when he hits form so that is the bit of excitement that I always have going into the Games.

"If we can get Liam mentally, physically and technically in the right place, I would like to think that he could go into the last 16 or quarter-finals of the Olympic Games.

"The great thing about this is that we don't know until we get there. I do know that Liam is really excited though."

Hursey only turned 18 last month and secured her place via the European Singles Qualification Tournament in Sarajevo in May.

She is the first Welsh table tennis athlete to compete at the Olympic Games and will be a year younger than Pitchford was when he took his place at his first Games at London 2012.

Gavin Evans playing table tennis as a youngster. ol..
Gavin Evans playing table tennis as a youngster. ol..

Hursey is also only the third female GB athlete to seal a place through the continental qualifying tournament and the first since 1992, when Lisa Lomas and Alison Gordon did so to earn their places at the Barcelona Games.

Evans said: "It is an incredible achievement for Anna and, at 18-years of age, she is a superstar in the making.

"She has had a meteoric rise from 300th to 90th in the world and is getting better and better as time goes on.

"Anna will be one of the youngest competitors there. We know that she is an amazing talent and is one of the best players in the world for her age.

"I would like to think that Anna goes there and has a really positive learning experience and prepares herself to ultimately be a medallist in 2028 or 2032 which is our goal.

"We want her to propel forward and ultimately put in the performances to come."

Evans enjoyed a stellar playing career himself as he won gold in the Youth Olympics in Belgrave and was picked to play in the London 2012 Olympics until injury ruled him out.

He also won a plethora of national titles as well as being crowned European and World champion before moving into coaching as injuries started to take a further toll.

Evans is now tasked with also developing the stars of the future with a number of youth athletes training at the current preparation camp.

He added: "It is inspiring to have so many young athletes with us and it is about learning what a high performance environment looks like.

"We really hope that there are pathway athletes in there who want to live out their dreams as well and ultimately go to the next Olympic Games and be part of a medal-winning team.

"I still get the same adrenaline rush as playing and it's great to be able to share my knowledge with other aspiring players."

Evans has been working alongside coach John Murphy as part of the Team GB delegation.

David McBeath will also travel to France as a sparring partner while physio Justin Lucas-Hill will be working with the athletes in France.

Evans explained: "The team around the athletes is so crucial. There are so many people who help the boat go in the right direction and ultimately row it in a faster way.

"We have everything that is needed to make an athlete go and produce an amazing performance.

"I'm just incredibly grateful to the team who have totally bought into this process. We share the same ambitions."

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