Chris Ryan has already been to the very top of one para sport – now he is targeting a similar trajectory in table tennis.
Ryan was the captain of the GB wheelchair rugby team which won Paralympic gold at Tokyo 2020, defeating the USA 54-49 in the final to claim a first medal in the sport for Great Britain.
He has now transitioned to table tennis and competed at the Mark Bates Ltd National Championships, falling in the group stage of the 2-5 para singles category with defeats to Jack Hunter-Spivey and Lee York.
However, the Class 2 athlete, currently on the Pathway programme with British Para Table Tennis, insists he has not taken up the sport as a hobby and will do whatever he can to get to the top.
Ryan, who is 31 and from Welwyn Garden City, said: “I played wheelchair rugby from 2010 until November 2021 and what a great journey it was for me – I came from the bottom in that sport and me and the squad grew.
“We were losing by 20 to Australia when we first started and at the end we managed to climb all the way and get the gold in Tokyo.
“Now I’ve moved into table tennis and the set-up at BPTT is really good – the opportunities you can have there and the coaching quality’s brilliant. I’m a pathway athlete at the moment and can train full-time if I want. The set-up there’s brilliant and the way the players help you as well is amazing, it really is helpful.”
As an elite athlete, Ryan has a head-start in some regards about what it takes to get to the top in a sport, but he admits he has a lot to do to learn the techniques and tactics of table tennis.
“It’s strange because normally when you start a sport you learn all the things at once – you learn how to train, how to go to sleep, nutrition and the sport,” he said, “whereas I’m just learning the sport.
“It’s strange, because I’m having to go to a sport where I’m technically not there but I know what I want to do but I can’t quite do it at the minute. I love that challenge and I’m going to keep driving for it.
“I haven’t got a set target. I won’t do this just as a hobby, I need to fill that competitive void and that will to win. I’m looking to go to the top, but I’ll try as hard as I can at everything I do within the sport. If that takes me to the top then I’ll have done what I needed to do.”
Ryan said testing himself against athletes of a higher classification, and facing Commonwealth champion Hunter-Spivey, was important for his development.
He said of his match against Paralympic bronze medallist Hunter-Spivey, which he lost 11-2, 11-4, 11-6: “My aim was to get to three towel breaks but I didn’t quite get there, I think I got to six in the last game.
“But it was brilliant to play that, it’s the first time I’ve played him properly. In my class, there’s not that much spin or speed on the ball but you have to be alert for everything (against Hunter-Spivey) because he’s putting pressure on every shot that I take.
“It’s a great learning curve, just the fact that being invited to these National Championships gave me a chance to play him. I’ll try and look back at the video and try and improve.”