SHOWMAN Will Bayley is grateful the Tokyo Paralympics were delayed after almost being KO-ed by Strictly Come Dancing.
The reigning Paralympic table tennis champion is in Japan ahead of the Games which start on Tuesday.
Yet had the event not been rescheduled due to the Covid pandemic, he would have missed out 12 months ago because of surgery.
Bayley, 33, took part in the 2019 version of the popular BBC programme Strictly but withdrew after sustaining a serious knee injury during dance rehearsals for the Halloween special.
Bayley told SunSport: “I was in a bad way for a long time.
“I tore my cruciate ligament and all of my meniscus. Pretty much my right knee was a write off to be honest.
“The right side of my body is the most important side. When I play forehand I put a lot of weight through that knee and I twist as well. It was a really bad situation.
“I mean I felt a bit bad but I celebrated almost that it was delayed.
“The Paralympics mean a lot to me. I want to be there. And I knew I had an extra year to recover.
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“I’ll always have to manage my knee now because you never really fully recover from an ACL.
“But I am stronger now than I was before in the leg. My muscles are stronger than ever. I’m in a better shape than I was before the operation.”
Bayley was born with Arthrogryposis – a condition which affects his limbs – and then aged seven he was diagnosed with blood cancer Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
It has been an incredible journey and when he won the title in Rio, he was so ecstatic he jumped on the table and stretched out his arms like the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue – a brazen act for which he received a yellow card from officials!
Bayley recalled: “I didn’t care at all. I was so happy. I was thinking about all my life, what I’ve been through to get to that moment, all those ups and downs.
“I thought about my grandma who got me my first table. When I jumped on the table, I felt like electricity throughout my whole body.
“I felt like I could have jumped on the roof I was so happy. I wasn’t thinking about the woman who gave me the yellow card!
“It was definitely one of the most memorable days of my life.
“It’s funny because I lost the first group match and thought it was an absolute disaster.
“My mum and stepdad were due to fly out. She said: “There’s no point us going now!’
“I got through on countback and managed to make my way to the final. It was a brilliant feeling.”
Bayley is part of a 13-strong para-table tennis squad in the Japanese capital and he fancies his chances of defending the crown.
The Kent battler said: “I believe on my day I’m the best player in the world.
“I’m excited to get there and pressurise people and do my job the best I can.
“It’s what I live for. I’m a natural competitor. I believe I’m a winner.
“The key thing is you stay humble and keep working as hard as you can even if you want things.
“I want to show that part of my personality this time and show that I’m not satisfied with winning with one gold. I want to keep going.
“And if I win – well, I might have to bring out a quickstep or a salsa, something like that!”
Source: The Sun