Liam Pitchford had to dig deep both mentally and physically after a sleepless night following England’s semi-final defeat in the men’s table tennis team event at Birmingham 2022.
The 29-year-old from Chesterfield produced a gutsy display to beat Quadri Aruna 3-1 (11-9, 9-11, 12-10, 11-6) in his singles rubber as the hosts got the better of Nigeria for bronze.
But Pitchford admitted he had mixed emotions after the hosts’ podium place was confirmed by a singles rubber victory for Paul Drinkhall, who had earlier teamed up with Tom Jarvis to get the team off to a perfect start with a doubles win over Bode Abiodun and Olajide Omotayo.
Pitchford has previously spoken openly about his mental health struggles, describing last year's delayed, post-lockdown Olympic Games as “the worst of my career”.
And while he was proud of the way he overcame the devastation of missing out on the gold medal match to triumph at the NEC, he still felt dissatisfied about coming away with a bronze as the disappointment from England’s semi-final defeat to Singapore still lingered.
“I feel a little bit indifferent, obviously it is another medal to add to the collection. I'm still sore from last night, I didn’t get much sleep and I didn’t know if I would be playing today,” he said.
“I’m quite proud that I came out and proved, not only to myself but to everyone, that I can still play like that. I can beat the best players in the world.
“It gives me confidence going into the singles, but it still hurts. I spoke to a psychologist last night and did a lot of work. I wanted to go out there and win, not for me, but for the boys.
“For Tom [Jarvis] to get his first Commonwealth medal, that gave me motivation. Everyone was behind me; I got a lot of support. I wanted to go out and prove to everyone that I am still here.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, comprises of over 400 athletes, all vying for medal success.
Pitchford has a mighty Commonwealth Games record, with the men’s team bronze taking his tally to nine medals in Team England colours since his debut at New Delhi 2010.
He brought back three gongs from the Gold Coast - a complete set of medals - doubles gold alongside Drinkhall, mixed doubles silver with Tin-Tin Ho and team bronze.
And Pitchford, who will return to action in the men’s singles and doubles, said his determination not to let the team down helped him re-focus on the job at hand.
"I'm not the sort to just shy away because it's not going well,” Pitchford continued. “That shows what character I have, and I wanted to do it for the boys as well.”
Pitchford’s performance was also hailed by his 22-year-old teammate Jarvis, who is competing in his debut Commonwealth Games, insisting the team can walk with their heads held high.
“It was really hard coming back from yesterday, I don’t think we have ever felt that bad as a team losing match but I’m just proud of the lads today,” he said.
“I’m proud of Liam for going out and taking down their number one and I think we can all walk away with our heads held high now. We just said we had to go out and enjoy it.
“There was a lot of stress yesterday and I think all of that was gone today. We just went out and showed our level, we could win a gold medal but that didn’t happen.”
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