TABLE tennis champion Melissa Tapper says she “literally felt sick” before every match during her London Paralympics campaign last year.
The highly talented Hamilton export now has her sights set on representing Australia when the Rio Paralympics roll around in 2016.
And she’s confident a medal is within reach after placing fourth in her debut Games.
Tapper, 22, lost her bronze-medal playoff against China’s Fan Lei after leading her better-credentialed rival two sets to love.
The class 10 match, which finished 11-7 in the fifth set, left her disappointed but with a sense of accomplishment after she started the tournament as the fourth seed.
Tapper was in Warrnambool representing the Victorian Institute of Sport at a Brauer College multi-sport day for Warrnambool and district primary school pupils. She said handling the big-stage nerves was the biggest lesson she learnt and one which would hold her in good stead for years to come.
“I literally felt sick before every match. I had those nerves,” she said.
“I do enjoy having those nerves because I know I’m there for the right reasons. But sometimes I think I’ve got to get a good poker face.
“With my bronze medal match I came out and won the first two sets. I was playing well against China. I had never beaten her (Fan Lei) before but she was nervous.
“The thing I’ve learnt is that everyone gets nervous. It’s just about getting out there and showing what I can do.”
Tapper, who suffers from Erb’s palsy as a result of nerve damage in her right arm, first picked up a table tennis bat at age 12 while growing up in Hamilton.
She said table tennis players needed the speed of a 100-metre sprinter but also the mentality of a chess player to succeed at the elite level.Tapper said she had no regrets about her result in London, having had time to reflect on her experiences. But she is doing everything possible to ensure she can go at least one better in four years’ time.
Her early preparation has involved a six-week training camp at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in December and January.
She will leave for Poland in mid-April to train with Natalia Partyka, who beat Tapper to gold at the London Paralympics and made the last 32 at the London Olympics. Her national championship campaign starts four days after she returns, in early June.
“We seek perfection in our sport. When you’re younger you get a lot of improvement with hard work,” she said.
“But once you get to a certain level the improvements are in the one-percenters and making sure the perfection we seek is what we can bring to the table.”