Ashley Facey eyes Paralympic table tennis glory after ditching saddle for paddle

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British table tennis player Ashley Facey believes his Paralympic dream is back on track after getting on – and off – his bike.

The newly-crowned English national champion was a Team GB member at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 before eyeing up a completely different challenge for a third shot at the Games.

The Londoner discovered a passion and talent for cycling during lockdown and, after much consideration, decided to pursue it as an alternative career.

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Ashley Facey (left) and team-mate Joshua Stacey
Facey (left) is back in table tennis after a foray into cycling (ParalympicsGB/imagecomms)

He had high hopes of making the grade but, after finding differences between recreational and professional life in the saddle not to his liking, switched back to his first love after 18 months away.

Results would suggest the 28-year-old has made a smart decision. He marked his return to competitive action by teaming up with Aaron McKibbin to win a doubles silver at the Lignano Masters Para Open in Italy earlier this month and followed up by winning the class 6-10 English national singles title in Nottingham last weekend.

“I’m just grateful to be back,” Facey told the PA news agency. “I missed table tennis so much.

“I didn’t think cycling was for me. I fell in love with it just before lockdown and a lot of people said I had raw power on the bike.

“I thought, ‘If I could get paid to do this, then why not?’ But when you actually come to pursue and execute it it’s not the same.

“I’m really proud of myself for trying it but I realised it’s not something that I want to do as a profession.

“I want to do it as a hobby and I’m very happy with my decision to come back.”

Facey, who was born with Erb’s palsy – which affects the nerves in the right side of his body, primarily his arm and shoulder – took up table tennis at the age of 11.

He immediately showed talent and became a member of the GB performance squad three years later. He missed out on selection for London 2012 but soon became a leading player in the British set-up.

He reached the quarter-finals of the class 9-10 Paralympics team events in Rio and Tokyo and also performed creditably in a tough group stage of the singles competition at the latter Games.

Now back as a full member of the GB squad based full-time in Sheffield, Facey has next year’s Paris Games in his sights.

“I couldn’t just walk back in,” said Facey, who hails from Leytonstone. “I’d said I wanted to leave so they asked why I wanted to go back.

“I was really nervous about it but they let me back and I’m very happy and appreciative.

“I’m getting back into things and I’m really happy with how I’m playing right now.

“I’m taking it stage by stage, tournament by tournament. Next is the Slovenia Open, one of the biggest opens on the para circuit then, after that, for the rest of the year, it’s about trying to qualify for Paris, get up the rankings, get better.

“As a whole team, I think we can go and do really well.”

Facey clearly has the drive – or perhaps the pedal power – to succeed.