World champion eyes Paralympics
Para-badminton star Jack Shephard is on top of the world as he hopes to lead his sport into the history books.
Shephard, 20, of Dronfield, is celebrating after fulfilling a childhood dream to win singles gold at the World Championships.
Seeded to make the semi-finals, he came from behind to beat fellow Englishman and top seed Krysten Coombs 10-21 21-19 23-21 in the SS6 final in Ulsan, South Korea after surviving three match points.
The two had earlier teamed up to win silver in the men’s doubles, not losing a game until the final — two years after they claimed doubles gold.
Shephard’s next goal is the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, where the sport is making its debut — and his classification, SS6, has been chosen for the singles tournament.
He is already part of the GB squad that is training for the games and meeting up at regular camps.
“It has been a dream of mine since I was 11 to compete in a Paralympics,” Shephard said.
“Para badminton has recently been selected to be a Paralympics sport, which the SS6 men’s singles will be part of.
“Over the next three years I am going to be playing many more tournaments that will also include the qualification year for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.”
It will be tough for the former Henry Fanshawe School pupil, however, as Shephard, Coombs and others will be vying for just one place.
Their qualification year starts at the beginning of 2019 and Shephard said he would be looking to take part in as many tournaments as he could and hopefully climb the rankings.
“We are both pushing for the one place and it will be tough on one of us to miss out,” he admitted. Reflecting on his success in South Korea, Shephard, who has the condition acondraplaysia, a form of dwarfism, said: “It was an amazing feeling and a great achievement to win my first world championships singles title.
“After major surgery in 2013 (to straighten his lower legs) becoming world men’s champion was a dream of mine. It took years of hard work to get back to fitness and lose weight I had put on, so it’s incredible to think I can now say I’m world champion.”
Shephard, who won singles bronze at the World Championships in Stoke Mandeville in 2015, also inflicted a first SS6 singles defeat on the reigning champion in the tournament in South Korea after topping his group, where he did not drop one game.
Shephard, who is determined to raise the profile and awareness of his sport, trains daily with Sheffield’s elite able-bodied players and the Para squad at the English Institute of Sport (EIS) venue.
He has been playing sport since he was three and in 2005, aged seven, competed in the Dwarf World Championships, taking part in several events.
He began playing badminton when he was 10. “I took to it quickly and it is a sport I love,” he said.
His inspiration as a youngster was swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who won two gold medals at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, aged just 13 and the youngest member of the GB squad.
“Since being a child watching the Paralympics it has always been a dream to compete at a Games,” Shephard said. “When we heard that badminton — and my classification — would be included from the 2020 it was unbelieveable.”
Now the Paralympics is firmly in Shephard’s sights. Since the inclusion of badminton in the Paralympic programme, the sport has attracted more para-athletes — there were 32 more competitors at this year’s World Championships than in 2015, where there were 232 athletes.
Shephard added: “Hopefully we can get get more players taking part. There are not enough countries involved at the moment for there to be a doubles competition at the Paralympics, but hopefully there will be one in 2024.
“But since the news that badminton would be included, the number of players and the standard has gone up massively. The sport is growing.”