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Para-badminton World Championships most competitive yet

Jack Shephard fulfilled a lifelong dream when he became para-badminton singles world champion for the first time in Ulsan, but the level of competition at last week’s event in South Korea makes his achievement all the more impressive.

Since the inclusion of badminton in the Paralympic programme, the sport has attracted more para-athletes motivated by the ultimate prize of a Paralympic gold medal.

As a result, there were 32 more competitors at this year’s Championships than in 2015, where there were 232 athletes.

The increased competition did not intimidate Shephard, though, as he defeated English teammate Krysten Coombs in the final to claim the title.

Only the men’s singles competition is included for SS6, Shephard and Coombs’ classification, at Tokyo 2020.

The pair were dominant in the doubles at the World Championships too, claiming silver after taking Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai and Wong Chun Yim to three games.

Even without international opponents, competition between the English shuttlers is fierce, as was clear when Shephard and Coombs went head-to-head in the singles final.

Reaching that stage was no easy feat for either of them and Coombs himself explained how much has changed since he first took up the sport nine years ago.

The Englishman competed in tournaments with just six competitors when he first started, but had to contend with a field of 20 in Korea.

And Coombs himself is upping the intensity in preparation for the Paralympics, having moved to Sheffield to be able to train alongside Shephard more frequently.

The extra preparation is showing as the pair won singles bronze at the last World Championships, proving they are on an upward curve in perfect time for Tokyo.

On a similar trajectory are WH pairing Owen Kilburn and Gobi Ranganathan, who are ones to watch after making it through qualifying to the last 16 in Ulsan.

There will be 14 medals on offer across different categories in 2020 and, after securing podium places aplenty on an extremely challenging world stage, the future certainly looks bright for the English players who hope to compete for them.

Photo: Badminton Photo