With badminton making its Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020, few knew quite what to expect in a Games like no other.
But ParalympicsGB and the badminton team enjoyed plenty of success, with Daniel Bethell winning silver for the country’s first Paralympic medal in the sport (read his Tokyo Diary here).
And they weren’t done there, with Krysten Coombs securing bronze for ParalympicsGB’s 124th and final medal of a truly historic Games.
Now back home, Krysten gave us a unique insight into his Paralympic journey and what it meant to take his place on the SH6 podium.
We had a prep camp at the Keio University, similar to how the Olympic team prepared for their Games, which was brilliant. We were there with judo and taekwondo, and that was the perfect start for a Games for us.
Being a new sport and in our first Paralympics, it was a great way for us to be able to settle into the experience in an area that was away from the Village.
It took us all away from that excitement, which was really good in terms of our preparation and being mentally switched on, prior to being part of the main group.
With six of the best athletes in the world going into two groups of three, we always knew that Jack [Shephard] and I could be drawn against each other.
That chance was always there – we knew that we would be playing against each other first as well, so our focus was on doing what we could to get both of us through.
For the past four or five years, we’ve been practicing hard against each other and there’s always been strong competition between Jack and I over that time.
We’ve been the best in the world and that has helped us. To be able to get game time against each other, we were able to push each other along through that journey.
We are such good friends and we don’t get too competitive in training. We carried on as normal, got ourselves into the Village and carried on from there.
To be able to get into the Village and call yourself a Paralympian was an awesome feeling.
The ParalympicsGB hub, our little block 13, was amazing. We got such a nice welcome from all the staff when we got there, we had a tour of where things were which was brilliant, and it was nice that we had a few days there to take all that in.
There was a great buzz around the ParalympicsGB team. They had a chart where all the medals were added and that was just getting fuller and fuller every day – our aim was to join all those fantastic athletes on the board.
INTO THE ACTION
I was pretty nervous, to be fair. I’d made sure my prep for the Games and the first match in particular, against Jack, was as good as it could be.
We were there together taking on the Paralympic challenge and it was brilliant that we could just carry on normally.
I was really happy with the way I played against Jack. The nerves settled, and once the match got going, I got into my rhythm quite quickly.
Before that, we were heading into this whole new world, getting called through and walking out there, it was such a ‘wow’ feeling to walk out on court and be at a Games.
I managed to handle that really well, I settled in and then relaxed my way into the match, which was really pleasing.
I had to play the second match in the same day as well which, with the tight schedule and the draw, was something we always knew could be a possibility.
Sadly the result wasn’t the one I wanted in that second match but I was still happy with the way I played. I was able to switch off and get prepared all over again.
I had a break after playing two matches in one day and I enjoyed that, it was good for me to be able to relax and go and support some of the other lads competing.
I’ve played Krishna [Nagar] on quite a few occasions, I always knew he was going to be a tough opponent. He’s a very good player and he’s very similar to me in the style of badminton he plays but I felt prepared and ready for the match.
The result didn’t go my way but I gave it my best fight and thought I put a really good performance in on the day.
PLAYING FOR A MEDAL
A bronze medal play-off is such a hard match. If you get yourself into the final, then you are guaranteed a medal but to come back after you’ve lost a semi-final, knowing you’ve got to win this match to take home a medal, is really tricky.
I really believed I could do it, and I did.
I didn’t get off to the ideal start, going a game down, but I still dug in and made sure I got through that first game in the best place I could be.
At that point you start thinking about all the years of work you’ve put into it, how much you want to win that medal and I just got going.
I flew through that second game, and in the third I was able to keep that going and pushed that through all the way to the end.
THE WINNING MOMENT
It’s one of those moments that you think about – what am I going to do if I win the match and win the medal?
The emotions of it all take over and you don’t know what you’re doing – you can just see in the videos just how much that meant to me.
That was the result of so much hard work and dedication over the past 14 years. That’s when SH6 was first in para badminton and it was a dream come true to be able to win that bronze medal.
Standing on the podium was the first moment where it really sunk in for me.
You’re stood there, the flag is being raised and the medal is around your neck, that was the point where it really got to me. You have a think about everything and realise what it means.
I was in the venue when Dan won his medal the day before, and then I watched his medal ceremony from the Village.
Seeing him win his medal and do that really inspired me. It pushed me to believe, ‘yes, that can be me up there tomorrow stood on there and winning that medal for ParalympicsGB.’
It was amazing for us to all be out there together. Once we found out that four of us were going out there, it was such a relief.
For all of us, knowing that we had started that programme together back in 2018 and that the four of us funded players were out there together, with another amazing group of staff with us, that was a dream come true.
Our team spirit was just excellent throughout the whole time there.
THE PARALYMPIC EXPERIENCE
We had a great time at the Keio with the judo team, and also those from taekwondo who, like us, were in the Paralympic Games for the first time.
They did a little Opening Ceremony for us there, a little event all together which was brilliant. We couldn’t go to the Opening Ceremony but didn’t miss out so that was awesome.
We bumped into a few people we knew around the Village. The table tennis group train next door to us in Sheffield, and the wheelchair basketball women’s team do as well so it was nice to see them.
Then we saw people like Ellie Simmonds, who Jack and I have both known for a while through the Dwarf Sports Association.
Then we met other ParalympicsGB members who we’d never met before, which was great, and a lot of people from across the different sports which was an excellent experience for us.
There were a few TVs in the block, so everyone who wasn’t at an event in person would mingle around there and watch the other sport that was taking place.
It was really nice to be around the buzz, to watch the other athletes competing and seeing them win medals as well.
The Games was exactly what I thought it would be. It wasn’t a normal Paralympics because of the COVID restrictions but it was still an amazing experience.
It’s the experience I’ve always wanted to have. To be there and part of the whole team-sport environment with ParalympicsGB, being part of a multi-sport event having come from an individual sport, was such a special time for all of us.
THE FUTURE OF PARA BADMINTON
Hopefully the participation and everything to do with para badminton can now grow over the next few years.
Having been involved in the sport for so long, I’ve already been able to see that develop, but hopefully it can now move on to that next level and just keep growing as a sport.
Bring on Paris, bring on Los Angeles, bring on all the Paralympic Games that are going to be happening in the future.
We want to see a great rise of participants in the UK. Hopefully Dan, Jack, Martin and myself can all inspire a generation to pick up a racket and get more and more people involved in the sport.
Personally, I’ve got some time off now and we’ll get slowly back into training.
Then we’ll turn our attention to next year, we’ll see what the schedule is like and we’ll get ready and prepared for that.
My parents live out in Portugal, and with a longer holiday coming up in November, hopefully we can get out there and spend some time with them.
Now is the time to relax, enjoy myself and do some things that we’ve been waiting to do!