Chesterfield ace has Rio 2016 in his sights

SPORT, Tischtennis, GAC WORLD TOUR 2015, Wels, 2015_09_04PITCHFORD Liam ENG�_PHOTO_PLOHE
SPORT, Tischtennis, GAC WORLD TOUR 2015, Wels, 2015_09_04PITCHFORD Liam ENG�_PHOTO_PLOHE

Chesterfield table tennis ace Liam Pitchford aims to keep the good times rolling as he bids to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

Pitchford is in Halmstad for the European qualifying event which begins on Tuesday, having been switched to Sweden from Istanbul because of security concerns.

And he is understandably high on confidence after last month’s stunning World Team Championships where the England line-up of Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker won bronze.

Since then, Pitchford has lost his national singles title to Drinkhall but risen to a career-high No 39 in the world.

With 10 Rio places up for grabs in Halmstad, he knows booking a place on the Team GB plane will not be easy, but he also knows none of his opponents will relish facing him.

Pitchford said: “It’s good to get a career-best ranking, it gives me confidence going in to the qualifiers.

“Obviously I want to go higher. I don’t want to set myself a limit on how high I can go. If I keep working hard and getting results I think the sky’s the limit.”

Pitchford feels the move from Turkey to Sweden, which also delayed the tournament by a few days, can help his challenge.

He said: “Moving it and making it a week later, it’s been perfect for me, giving me longer to rest and prepare.

“After the Worlds and the Nationals I was pretty tired but now I’m rested and ready to go again.

“It’s a nice challenge and it’s never going to be easy to qualify for an Olympics but I’ll give it my best. There will be highs and lows – that’s table tennis – but it’s always fun.”

Drinkhall is also competing in Halmstad and will be first into the action on Tuesday and Wednesday, playing in round-robin groups for the right to join the top 16 seeds – including Pitchford – in Thursday’s main group stage.

Thursday will see eight groups of four played on a knockout basis, with each group winner qualifying for Rio.

The final two qualifying places will be determined on Friday and Saturday as previously eliminated players are put into one of two groups of 32. These will be played on a knockout system, with the two group winners qualifying for Rio.

Those who do not qualify by right in Sweden will still have the opportunity to get to Rio by virtue of their world rankings.