Reigning Paralympic champion and main favorite to his succession in Tokyo, the 21-year-old table tennis player from Antwerp wants to rub shoulders even more with the best able-bodied.
For some top athletes, talent does not wait for the number of years. By becoming, at only 16 years old, Paralympic table tennis champion in class 9 (hemiplegia and cerebral palsy), all without losing a single set during a perfectly mastered Paralympic tournament, Laurens Devos had marked the spirits during the Games Rio, in 2016. Youngest gold medalist in the history of the Games in his discipline, elected in the wake of Paralympic athlete of the year in Belgium, this young boy who was at the same time endearing, hardworking and determined had seized a year later, at 17, from the status of world No. 1 which is still his four years later, when he enters the Olympic event with the firm intention of succeeding himself on the prize list. In 2018, he also stuck to his record a first world championship title, having also reigned over Europe five times, three times in singles and twice in doubles.
Coming from a family where the ‘ping’ has the value of religion – his brother Robin, six years his senior, once flirted with the world 100 among able-bodied -, the native of Malle (province of Antwerp) naturally directed towards this sport where his problems of partial paralysis linked to his handicap do not obviously bother him too much. Anxious to always progress, he has also acquired the habit of rubbing shoulders with the best able-bodied table tennis players. Evolving for three years and with some success in favor of the Weinheim team, in the German first division, he also won three bronze medals at the European Under-21 Championships in 2020 and now dreams of playing in both the ‘classic’ Olympics and the Paralympic Games in 2024 in Paris. “In the German championship, the level is higher than in Belgium, he explained in the columns of Nieuwsblad. After the Paralympics, I dream of playing in major tournaments in order to improve my ranking among able-bodied. In this way, I could continue to progress, to hope to qualify for the Olympic Games one day. ”
Laurens Devos became hemiplegic due to a lack of oxygen at birth, suffering from partial paralysis on the right side of his body. But that in no way altered his determination to reach the top, quite the contrary. “When I was little, you could see more that I was disabled,” he said in the same newspaper. I couldn’t move sideways. The doctors even said that I could never ride a normal bike, that I would always need side wheels. But if someone tells me that something is not going to be possible, I only dream of proving that person wrong. So I continued to fight and now it is hardly noticeable that I have paralysis. ”
Finally, the major difference between Rio and Tokyo, besides the fact that Laurens Devos has been able to gain experience and more consistency, is that he knows that he is now expected at the turn in this tournament of which he is the big favorite. He has already come out of his pool very easily by chaining two successes to the score of 3-0. In Brazil he was still considered, despite his status as world No. 2, as a – beautiful – promise and arguably had less to lose. “There is definitely more pressure on my shoulders,” he concedes. But that doesn’t bother me. I need this to be able to perform at my best. ”
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