More than 120 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls training in Sheffield ahead of Tokyo Games

More than 120 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls are training in Sheffield ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Games.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 1:47 pm

With fewer than 100 days until the start of the Olympics, The English Institute of Sport Sheffield (EISS) at the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park is the current base for 121 athletes bidding for glory in sports such as badminton, boxing, wheelchair basketball and table tennis.

“Sheffield has a reputation for producing world-class athletes and it’s going to be incredibly exciting to see the current crop put all their hard-work and preparations into action after all this time,” said Richard Caborn, former Minister for Sport and project lead for Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park.

Galal Yafai (top), Aaron McKibbin (left) and Jack Shephard are among the athletes training in Sheffield ahead of the Tokyo Games.

Among those hoping to bring home a medal this summer is GB Paralympic table tennis star Aaron McKibbin, who has been based in Sheffield for the last 11 years.

The 29-year-old won bronze in the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - and has his sights on another medal at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which get underway on 24 August.

He said: “It’s been a long wait but obviously in the world there was much more important things going on than sport.

“We’ve been very lucky that in Sheffield we have been able to continue our training when the country has been in lockdown. We have the perfect safe environment in Sheffield which allows us to train every aspect of our sport and with everything going on, everyone is very grateful of the opportunity.”

Also based at the EISS is Paralympic badminton player Jack Shephard from Dronfield, who has been honing his skills since he was just 10 years old and became world champion in 2017.

Tokyo 2020 will be the Olympic debut of para-badminton.

Jack said: “I am mainly super excited. It's been a dream for as long as I can remember and now it's so close it just motivates me even more each day.

‘We have our last qualification in Spain in a couple of weeks’ time so that is my focus at the moment but Tokyo is always in back of my mind. My preparation has been going very well and I’m fully on track. I just can’t wait to play.”

Uncertainty still persists over whether or not the delayed Games will go ahead, however, amid Japan’s slow vaccination rollout and low public support due to coronavirus concerns.

But another Sheffield-based medal hopeful, who has already qualified, said the postponement has made the prospect of competing “sweeter”.

Galal Yafai is part of a well-known boxing family alongside his brothers, Khalid and Gamal, who were both previously members of the GB Boxing team.

The 29-year-old has already helped to continue the family legacy by winning silver at the 2017 European Championships in Ukraine and gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 on the Gold Coast.

Galal said: “It’s the Olympic Games, it’s the pinnacle for an amateur boxer and there will be a lot of good boxers there from all over the world and that’s what makes it more competitive and that’s where you want to be ultimately.

“I’m looking forward to showing everyone what I’m all about and hopefully coming home as an Olympic champion.”