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Tabling intent for Olympic bid

It may be dismissed in the UK as the sport of youth clubs, but a college taking a professional approach to table tennis is helping its students earn cash prizes and aim for Olympic glory.

The 22 students at the table tennis academy at Filton College in Bristol, are waiting to hear if two of them have been selected to play for Great Britain in the Olympics.

Disabled player Will Bayley will know next month if he is to compete in the Paralympics in Beijing, while British number three Gavin Rumgay will try to secure his qualification at a selection event in France in April.

They are testament to the effectiveness of the academy, which is in its third year and offers one of the only opportunities for intensive professional coaching in table tennis in the UK, while students simultaneously complete courses at the college. Grantham College has a similar scheme. Several of the Bristol players are able to earn around pound;500 during weekends by competing in tournaments in Europe where the sport is taken very seriously, according to Kevin Satchell, the academy's director.

He said: "In this country, table tennis is quite a minority sport. But if you go to China and a table tennis player gets off the bus, it's like Paul Gascoigne in 1990. I've seen it myself. In France and Germany it's pretty big.

"There are millionaire table tennis players in the world, although they have to be pretty special."

Academy players train for about 15 hours a week under the guidance of Mr Satchell, a former Commonwealth medal winner and a current England national team coach.

They work on fitness, speed and agility as well as making sure the players develop their technique and get match practice. Mr Satchell said that although its origins are as a pub game like darts and snooker, table tennis requires a high level of fitness and students work with a dedicated fitness coach.

Mr Satchell said: "It's the fastest racquet sport in the world. The most important physical attributes are speed and agility and a quick recovery time is important. In terms of heart rate and explosive power, it's a really fast, demanding game."

The college won silver in last year's European high school championships held in Croatia, competing against some of the continent's top national academies. Other achievements by academy students include Darius Knight and Danny Reed helping England to win the under-18 European championships for the first time.

This young team, with an average age of 17, is expected to peak in time for the 2012 Olympics in London.

As well as attracting the attention of Olympic selectors, Will Bayley picked up a gold medal in last year's German open table tennis championships, beating a European, world and Paralympic champion after dispatching the world number four and number two players in his disability class along the way.

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