Hoping for Commonwealth Games success

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
August 2022

It’s been a big year for Tom Jarvis – he’s already won his first national table tennis singles championship and now he’s preparing for his first Commonwealth Games. Interview by Kate Chapman.

The 22-year-old, who comes from Skegness, is thrilled with how things are going so far. He beat Sam Walker 4-2 at the University of Nottingham back in March to take the national title and then completed a double by teaming up with Walker for victory in the men’s doubles final.

Currently ranked 101 in the world, Tom now has high hopes for more success at the Commonwealth Games, which take place on home soil in Birmingham, between 28th July and 8th August.

“Things have been going really well so far, especially as I was out for 11 months after injuring my hip and undergoing surgery last year,” said Tom.

“I’ve been back in England training, then we’re off to Croatia, Slovenia and Budapest for tournaments before the Games.

“The main one for us is winning gold in the team event, that’s the focus for me, and I think the team is in a good place. Then there’s the doubles and mixed doubles, but a gold medal in the team is the big focus – I’m really looking forward to it.”

Tom, who grew up and went to school in Skegness, where his family still lives, was six years old when he first picked up a table tennis bat – and he hasn’t stopped playing since.

“My older brother Ross was playing table tennis at school – there were about four tables in the old school hall, and I decided to go along with him,” Tom recalls.

“It was lunchtime, and then it became every morning before school, lunchtimes and after school! At that point we were just playing for fun, but then we started going to a club over in Grantham.

“It was an hour-and-a-half each way from Skegness. We just went once a week at first but then we met a coach, who became my full-time coach, and we were going four or five times a week.

“We’d finish school, take some food in the car, then Mum or Grandad would pick us up, drive us to Grantham and back again!”

When he turned nine, Tom’s coach moved to Skegness for a couple of years which put an end to his commute. The travelling started again when he hit 14 as he returned to Grantham daily to continue developing his game, even while studying and sitting his GCSEs.

“My brother stopped training when he was about 13 or 14, but I kept going. From the age of nine there were tournaments most weekends in England and when I hit 13 there was more international stuff as well,” he adds.

“I didn’t really have much time to spend with my friends, but I just loved playing – and still do! As a kid I really liked winning and table tennis was the only sport I could beat people at. It’s also such good fun and it’s something that everyone can get involved in. Who doesn’t like table tennis?!”

After completing his GCSEs Tom got his first taste of a major championship when he was a reserve player for Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Two years later he helped England win a bronze medal at the Team World Cup in 2018. During that time, he also left home – moving to Sweden for four years, where he took advantage of the country’s excellent club system and training facilities.

“I left home at 16, I moved to another country on my own and learnt how to stand on my own two feet and do things like use the washing machine! I chose Sweden as it has the best club structure and a lot more players. It’s quite hard to play full-time in England,” adds Tom, who is sponsored by table tennis equipment brand STIGA.

“Fortunately, everyone’s English there is pretty good, it’s like their first language, so there wasn’t a real barrier in that respect, and I managed to pick up a bit of Swedish too. I had a really good time.

“My parents were very supportive of the move as they knew it was my dream. I still studied A-levels and some other diplomas, but my family always said to me that I could come back to schoolwork, I wouldn’t be able to come back to sport.”

When the Covid pandemic hit, Tom returned to Skegness, and enjoyed spending time at home with his parents David and Julie and brothers Ross and Will. He enjoyed the extended break but admits he was soon itching to get back to training and competitions, although a hip injury forced him to take more time out after he needed surgery and a long recovery time.

Now based in Germany, he’s back to full strength and looking forward to the Games. His schedule in the run-up to them involves training every weekday, with two table tennis sessions plus gym work. This drops to one session on the tables, plus gym work on Saturdays, with Sundays as rest days.

In those rare moments of free time Tom admits he finds it hard to sit still and likes to unwind by playing golf, and catching up with friends and family, who will be cheering him on in Birmingham.

“My family came to a lot of my matches and tournaments when I was younger. They’ve not been for a little while, but they will be coming to watch at the Commonwealth Games, which will be great. I’m really looking forward to it and the atmosphere in the hall.”

Lincolnshire will also be represented at the Games by Cleethorpes bowler Amy Pharaoh and Grantham swimmer Freya Colbert (18).

Photographs: Alan Man

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