People of Laško Full of Ambitions
From Thursday to Saturday, Laško will be the venue of an important step before the Paralympic Games in Japan this summer. The Tri Lilije Hall will be hosting the qualification para table tennis tournament, after which the last qualifiers for Tokyo will be announced. Slovenians are also taking part in the competition.
Tokyo Qualifications Taking Place in Laško
The city of Laško, with the help of the Sports Federation for the Disabled of Slovenia – Paralympic Committee of Slovenia, has a lot of experience in hosting table tennis competitions for disabled athletes at all levels. It has hosted the European and World Championships, and now a new challenge awaits both the competitors and the organisers.
The qualifying tournament, taking place between 3rd and 5th of June, will be the first such event before the Paralympic Games.
This will be the last chance for the competitors to secure their place in the Paralympic Games. In Laško, 21 tickets will be available in as many different categories, guaranteed to all winners. Initially, 226 athletes from 50 countries were expected to arrive in Slovenia, but the day before the event began, the organisers reported that – due to problems in arrivals because of the pandemic – the numbers would actually be 210 players from 47 participating countries.
The Slovenian athletes who will be taking part in the tournament are Andreja Dolinar, Luka Trtnik, Primož Kancler and Alen Bečirević, led by their coach Ožbej Poročnik.
Tournament at Home
The preliminaries will take place in groups of three or four participants; two from each group will advance. After that, knock-out matches will begin. There will be 11 and 10 categories in the men’s and women’s competitions respectively. The winners of Saturday’s final matches will secure their qualification for Tokyo.
“My goal is to qualify – the form is there, I’ve been training, what matters now is being relaxed. There is a little bit of nervousness, considering this is one of the biggest tournaments, but these nerves are the good kind,” said Bečirević before coming to Laško.
“This tournament looks very different, it’s something special. We have really prepared for it and I hope I can represent our national team as best as possible. We will know about my form when I hit the first ball. It’s been a long time since I’ve competed, but we’ve trained extensively and I’m in good shape. Everyone who is here has come to qualify for the Games, so I don’t want to worry about the competition,” said Trtnik, an experienced player.
The Games are something special
“Some will say that the Paralympic tournament at the Games is just an ordinary tournament. But that is not true! It’s a special tournament, a special experience. What sticks in my mind the most are my first Paralympic Games in 2000 in Sydney. That was truly special, also because of the many Slovenians living there, you could see a lot of Slovenian flags in the stands. The Games are something special: just to qualify is an achievement, but then you experience the opening ceremony, the competition, cheering for the other members of the team,” recalled Andreja Dolinar, who is also competing tomorrow, of her performances at the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.
Primož Kancler also has ambitions of his own.
“I know I have to fight for every point! I want to show progress in my playing. But we also haven’t had competitions this past year and a half,” Kancler recalls.
“This year’s championship will be special because it will be taking place during a pandemic, which makes conditions particularly difficult for organisers of sports competitions. Despite all the strict health conditions that have to be respected, we will try to provide the athletes with a spectacle that no one has been able to provide for almost two years now,” commented Damijan Lazar, President of the Sports Federation for the Disabled of Slovenia, on the importance of this competition.
The competition will be directed by Gorazd Vecko, the British team selector. Due to the restrictions, special measures are in place and players will only be allowed to stay in hotels and the indoor arena, so the logistics will be a whole new challenge for the experienced organisers this time around.
Spring is also the time for another big table tennis competition; however, because of the current epidemiological situation, the Slovenian Sports Federation has decided to postpone the traditional 17th Slovenia Open Thermana Laško tournament until autumn.