Drinkhall faces anxious wait after Rio qualifiers exit

Olympic table tennis hopeful Paul Drinkhall Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Archive/Press Association Images

North East table tennis star Paul Drinkhall faces an anxious wait to find out if he has qualified for this summer's Olympic Games in Rio.

The 26-year-old, from Loftus, has been eliminated from a European qualifying event after losing to world No 46 Lei Kou in Halmstad, Sweden.

In what was effectively a semi-final, Drinkhall missed chances before the Ukrainian completed a 4-1 victory (11-8, 12-10, 3-11, 12-10, 11-4). Kou also beat Drinkhall in the bronze medal match at last year’s European Games in Baku.

Earlier in the five-day competition, the world No 68 earlier came within one match of booking his ticket to Rio in the first stage. Drinkhall recorded a brilliant 4-0 (11-6, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7) victory over world No 23 Simon Gauzy of France.

He then followed up by beating Russia’s Alexey Liventsov 4-2 (8-11, 11-13, 11-4, 11-9, 11-8, 11-5) to advance to one of eight finals at that stage of the competition.

There, he faced home favourite Par Gerell of Sweden, with the winner claiming a place at Rio. However, Drinkhall was unable to get the better of his opponent, ranked No 33, losing 4-1 (11-7, 11-7, 8-11, 14-12, 11-5).

That put him into the second stage of the tournament, where four successive wins would have seen him claim one of two remaining qualifying spots.

He had kept his bid alive by beating world No 88 Lubomir Jancarik 4-2 (11-8, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-1) and then coming from 2-0 down to defeat Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu, ranked 73 in the world, 4-2 (10-12, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-7, 11-8) before eventually losing to Kou.

However, despite his elimination from the competition, Drinkhall could still qualify for Rio based on his International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) world ranking which will be published next month.