History-making duo aiming for glory in Tokyo as badminton makes Paralympics debut

Jack Shephard and Dan Bethell will become the first players to represent their country at a Paralympic Games this summer, having been selected by Team GB for the upcoming showpiece in Tokyo, taking place from August 24 to September 5.

Shephard, who hails from Chesterfield, enters the SH6 category tournament as reigning world champion and current world number two. Bethell, a Wiltshire native, will be hopeful of taking gold in the SL3 category.

The pair’s stories are ones of perseverance and world-conquering achievement. Just five years after undergoing major surgery to straighten both legs as a teenager, Shephard won his maiden title and went on to take back-to-back world singles titles in 2017 and 2019.

His selection for the upcoming Paralympics comes off the back of a year in which he returned from the European Championships with two gold medals, beating compatriot Krysten Coombes in the final of the Men’s Singles before partnering with his fellow Brit to lift the Men’s Doubles title.

But despite being in the form of his life, the 2019 BWF Male Badminton player of the year did not take an inclusion in the squad for Tokyo for granted.

“I’m just getting more and more excited, but you’ve got to hold that in and get all the training done that we need to do, because the main aim is to bring home the gold,” said the 24-year-old.

Bethell will also head to Tokyo with a golden-tinted focus. In the recent 2021 Spain International tournament — the final event before the Paralympics after an extended Covid-enforced break — he claimed victory and will have similar aspirations as he arrives in the Japanese capital. Bethell is a three-time European champion and won the silver medal at the 2019 World Championships in Basel.

“It’s still a surreal feeling that I’m going to be going to the Paralympic Games,” Bethell said of his inclusion.

“Day by day it’s getting closer and I just can’t wait to get out there and get on that plane!”

While the pair’s excitement is palpable, Shephard emphasised the importance of completing the last few weeks of vital preparation that could make the difference when the players step on court and medals are on the line.

“We had the disappointment of the Games being postponed because of the Covid situation but we knew they were going to happen again a year later so it just gave us an extra year to develop as athletes,” Bethell said.

Badminton is one of two new events added to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games programme, alongside taekwondo. The Badminton England family join Paralympics GB in their hope that their two star players, ranked second in the world in their respective classifications, can deliver on the historic occasion.

“I’m just going to enjoy each day as it comes, try my best while I’m out there and hope to bring him the gold,” Shephard said.

The Dronfield native and his Sheffield-based training partner are certainly not going just to make up the numbers.

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