Excitement in the air as Kettering's Dermot heads to Tokyo
Dermot Bailey will be competing in the Paralympic Games for the first time
Kettering’s Dermot Bailey headed out to Tokyo this week as he prepares to compete in the Paralympic Games for the first time.
One of Bailey’s career goals was completed when he was named in the ParalympicsGB squad for the Games, which get under way with the opening ceremony next Tuesday.
The 27-year-old wheelchair tennis star will be playing in the men’s singles with the first-round matches due to begin on Friday, August 27.
Bailey’s selection for Tokyo comes five years after he was invited to accompany the ParalympicsGB squad to the Rio Games having just missed out on selection.
Since then, he has turned full-time and has now earned his spot.
He will be unseeded in the competition and insists he will not be putting himself under any added pressure as he bids to, first and foremost, savour the experience of his first Games.
And, having watched the Olympics closely in the past few weeks, he knows there will be a big chance for him and others to provide inspirational moments.
“It’s getting really close now and I am really looking forward to it,” Bailey said shortly before flying out to Japan.
“I watched a lot of the Olympics and you just end up watching sports that you haven’t seen since the last Olympics and you get excited because Britain have a chance of getting a medal.
“You watch people you have never heard of before and you end up researching to find out more about them - that’s what the Olympics does. Hopefully, people will be doing the same for the Paralympics with the coverage being on Channel 4.
“You can take inspiration from anyone and there will be those who compete at the Olympics who might have been told they have no chance of getting a medal but then they are going out there and doing it. I found it inspirational watching it unfold.
“I was so close for Rio, I missed out by one ranking place so that was gutting at the time.
“But it’s been good. I went full-time at the end of 2018 which was a big sacrifice for me in terms of giving up a stable job and stable income.
“Things were a bit up in the air last year when there was talk about whether the Games would be cancelled or just postponed.
“I went out to Rio to watch, which was amazing but this is going to be a completely different experience for me and it will be a completely different level to any tournament I have ever done.
“It’s just a shame there won’t be any fans but those are the times we are living in at the moment.”
Bailey is hoping that once the competition gets under way, it will feel like any other tournament.
However, getting into that frame of mind might be harder than it sounds.
“I guess that’s what you have to try to do, whether you can do it or not is another question,” he said.
“Even if there are no fans watching, the scale of the event is massive.
“There will be thousands of athletes there, I think there’s over 200 British athletes alone, so the scale of the whole event is ridiculous.
“All I can do is take it a day at a time, a match at a time and see what I can do.
“I think the last 18 months has probably changed how we are approaching it.
“Before the pandemic, I was in a position where I possibly could have got myself into the top 16 and possibly seeded for the Games, which would have been great and possibly an easier route to the last 16 at least.
“But I am ranked 27 or 28 at the moment. I feel I am playing well so hopefully I can get through a few rounds and take out a seed or two and see where it takes me.
“I am not going to put pressure on myself and say that I have to go and get a medal. To do that, I will have to win four rounds against seeded players, which I don’t think has been done before.”
Like every other athlete, Bailey hasn’t been immune from the chaos that the Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted over the past 18 months or so.
The first lockdown left him unable to train and, even when sport returned, circumstances worked against him as he looked for competitive action ahead of the Games.
However, the big Kettering Town fan insists there will be no excuses from him.
“It’s been hard, like it has been for everyone,” he added.
“We weren’t able to do anything during the first lockdown but we were lucky enough in the second one to be able to do more because we fell under the banner for disabled and elite sport.
“So I was able to train but tournaments were a nightmare because it was so hard to get out to certain places.
“It’s been difficult. I have done two tournaments when I might have done four but I had one situation where my tests didn’t come back quick enough to get on a flight to France.
“Then there was the British Open a few weeks ago and a day before the tournament my girlfriend tested positive so I couldn’t do that. That just about summed up the last 24 months, last minute things happening to stop us in our tracks.
“But training has been good, I just haven’t had the match practice I would want going into the Games but it is what it is.
“There are enough people in the same situation. I can’t use it as an excuse, I just have to make the best of it.”