Tapper a finalist for international award

FORMER Hamilton table tennis player Melissa Tapper has narrowly missed out on winning a major international award.

Tapper, 23, was one of three finalists up for the 2013 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) female para-athlete of the year honour.

The award, announced at a gala ITTF function in Dubai on Saturday, went to Swedish wheelchair player Anna-Carin Ahlquist.

Tapper, who was born with nerve damage in her right arm, earned her nomination on the back of a sensational 2013 competing in class 10.

She won the Bayreuth Open in Germany in May and scored bronze medals in the Bratislava Open in Slovakia and the Lasko Open in Slovenia.

The wins, which followed a fourth at the London Paralympics in 2012, meant she finished the year ranked second in the world in her class.

Australian para table tennis squad assistant coach Alois Rosario said the nomination was worth celebrating.

Rosario said Tapper, a South West Academy of Sport member, was the first Australian to be nominated for the award.

“It’s just for the professionalism she’s displayed over the last couple of years with her training,” he said.

“Also her strength and conditioning program and her mental preparation, she’s really starting to become a complete package.”

Tapper was unable to be reached yesterday but last week told the Table Tennis Australia website that 2013 had “definitely been my toughest year”.

She said living in Europe for almost half the year had been worthwhile and made her a better player than when she contested the Paralympics.

“Even though it was tough and I wanted to quit, I look back on it now and I’m a much stronger and tougher person mentally and physically,” she said.

“What I was able to gain out of living and training over there was stuff I couldn’t have got by being back here. I don’t regret a single thing.”

Tapper said her burning ambition was to be part of the Australian able-bodied squad at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

She will contest a qualifying tournament on the Gold Coast from February 21 to 23 in her bid to make history.

Meanwhile, Rosario took 12 emerging south-west table tennis players through their paces at the Cramer Street centre last week.

The former Australian representative spent Thursday and Friday in Warrnambool  and said he was impressed with the standard of players.

He was invited to assist by Trevor McDowell, who has been running the Warrnambool Table Tennis Association junior development program

“It was really good to see a couple of new, young players I hadn’t seen before that Trevor has unearthed in the last six months,” Rosario said.

“He gets me down every now and again to give a different perspective and to also get the kids to see things from a bigger picture.”

afawkes@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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