By Allan Clarke
Leading Rockhampton Table Tennis Association player Joel Coughlan will be returning from the Tokyo Paralympics with a precious silver medal draped around his neck.
Coughlan’s Australian team was beaten in the gold-medal match, not long prior to the conclusion of a very successful Tokyo Paralympics.
The men’s national team, in the Class 9-10 team section, did very well to reach the final. The top-seeded side from China was always going to be difficult to head-off as there were two very strong players in the category.
Australia went in with its best two players, Ma Lin and Coughlan, with the doubles tie being staged first – as is the rule in the international two-person team format. The national contingent would have felt quietly confident as the Aussies had won all their doubles matches in the tournament to that stage. However, Hao Lian and Yi Qing Zhao of the powerful China team proved to be too consistent with their attack and counter-attack and created an excellent victory as they starved the Australians of good balls that could have put the underdogs in the contest.
With the team matches consisting of three rubbers – the doubles tie and a singles match from each of the nominated team members – Ma Lin was next to the table. Unfortunately for him Hao Lian continued with his sound form and created another good win to set up an unassailable lead.
With international rules, once a match has been decided no further play takes place so Coughlan wasn’t required to play his opponent. That was a shame as Coughlan performed really well in the individual singles against his opponent from China earlier in the tournament.
The Australian women’s team suffered a very similar fate in the play-off for the gold medal in the Class 9-10 event. Li Na Lei and Qian Yang both won gold medals in their singles events and in the team final against Poland they were joined by Victoria’s Melissa Tapper.
Whilst the national team was beaten two-nil in the final, the players performed very well against the favourite for the gold medal.
Overall the Australian Paralympics team, that was co-captained by Rockhampton’s Coughlan, are returning with two gold and four silver medals and this is the best ever result at this event.
Whilst Coughlan plays in the para-section due to a leg injury, he is also very well respected across the nation in able-bodied competitions.
He has represented Queensland at junior, youth and senior levels and only a couple of years ago he was rated the third best male player in the state.
Coughlan took up the sport at the local club’s Leichhardt Park Centre on Campbell Street at the age of eight and progressed from there. Up to his inclusion in the national para-squad he hasn’t received coaching outside of the city.
The city’s youngsters can follow in Coughlan’s footsteps by joining the club’s junior coaching sessions that are staged by qualified coaches on Thursdays between 4.30pm and 6.00pm, excluding school holidays. Equipment is available for beginners and qualified coaching personnel is always on hand to teach the basics of the sport. Enquiries can be directed to 0417 474 898.