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How a table tennis taster session took Josh Stacey to Commonwealth glory

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Josh Stacey knows his grandfather would have been proud of him - not just for his Commonwealth gold medal, but for the nine-year journey it took him to get there.

Stacey won gold in the men’s singles para classes 8-10 at the NEC in Birmingham, leading the way for Wales’ best ever finish in table tennis at a Commonwealth Games. 

Josh overcame Australia’s Lin Ma in the final, in a category for players with moderate to mild physical impairment.

The Cardiff-born athlete was delighted to win the gold after claiming bronze at his first Games on the Gold Coast of Australia in 2018. 

It has been a long and winding road for the 22-year-old, who picked up the sport at the age of 13. His emotion at winning at the end was clear for everyone to see. 

On wrapping himself in the Welsh flag on court at the end, looking at his friends and family in the stands, Josh said: "My grandfather passed away in April. This was for him!

“It is something you dream of. I am so thankful for all the support I have had, it has been incredible.”

It was by chance that a taster session put on at his school helped Josh fall in love with table tennis, the open door that enabled him to go on to become one of the best players in the world.

Josh Stacey holds the Red Dragon of Wales aloft to celebrate victory.
Josh Stacey shows his pride for Wales as he wins Commonwealth Games Gold. Pictures: Michael Loveder Photography
I played rugby, football, and track running. I just enjoyed playing sports in general.
Josh Stacey

“My long term coach, Simon Oyler, came into my high school to run table tennis sessions,” recalls Josh.

“It was just a taster session and I wasn’t very good, if I’m really honest, but it was my competitive nature that made me just want to go back and try and get better.

“Within a couple of weeks, I was completely hooked and I never looked back after that. 

“I played rugby, football, and track running. I just enjoyed playing sports in general, but I hadn’t really found one that I loved and really wanted to pursue.”

Four years ago, the Commonwealth Games Down Under was a whirlwind experience for an 18-year-old, even though he came home with a medal.

“Last time was quite daunting. It was my first Games. I wasn’t expecting to do well, but I was trying to get some experience. The medal was unexpected, I was 18 at the time and there were plenty of top players out there.”

Since then, Josh has continued his rise in the sport and made the Great Britain para table tennis team for the Tokyo Paralympics.

“I have really found my calling. Some people take 30 years, I was lucky I found mine at such a young age. 

“I am just thankful Simon came into my school that day. It has been amazing since. 

“I have experienced places that I never thought I would. It is also really nice to revisit places and take the culture in.”

Stacey is great friends with Paul Karabardak, a fellow Welsh para table tennis player, who won gold and silver medals in Tokyo last year.

“Paul is a great guy, such a nice person to be around, we get on well. He’s been doing really well lately and he is in a strong position going forward. 

“As a Swansea City fan, his club asked him to parade his Paralympic medal around the Liberty Stadium and he absolutely loved it! 

“Maybe now I have a Commonwealth Gold, Cardiff City might give me a call! 

“I’m a Cardiff boy, so that would be great!” 

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