Image: Paralympics Australia
The two-time Paralympic silver medallist is looking to qualify for the able-bodied Commonwealth Games Australia Table Tennis team and make history in Birmingham.
Two-time Paralympic silver medallist Sam Von Einem is looking to become the second ever Australian Para-Table Tennis athlete to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in the table tennis able-bodied competition.
The only other Para-Table Tennis athlete to have represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games is Melissa Tapper at the Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Unfortunately at the upcoming Commonwealth Games, von Einem’s classification – Class 11 which is the only classification for athletes with an intellectual impairment – was not included.
So the only way for the Class 11 world no.3 to reach Birmingham 2022 was to try to qualify with the able-bodied team.
“If I was able to qualify for the Commonwealth Games it would be a huge achievement for me to experience a high-level able-bodied competition while representing the country,” he said.
“It would give me a great confidence boost to mix it with the best in the country but I’m trying to not get too carried away since there is still a lot to do for it to happen.”
It’s not the first time von Einem has competed with able-bodied athletes.
He has spent most of his junior career playing in able-bodied competitions until he was classified internationally at the age of 20 after being told he had autism.
He has also represented South Australia at the National Championships in junior and senior events for many years.
Having grown into his career mainly playing alongside able-bodied athletes, von Einem has noticed a handful of differences.
“In my Para class players find it harder to change and adapt to strategies and tactics but they also put more time into figuring out how to beat me as well, so this part is challenging,” he explained.
“Able-bodied players have less of a problem to change and adapt to what a player is doing and this makes it harder for me who isn’t as good at adapting.
“I feel less pressure at able-bodied events as I am not expected to make deep runs in big tournaments or qualify for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. In Para, there is much more expectation and pressure in how I am performing as I am one of the top players in my class.”
He takes great confidence in his ability to perform on the world’s biggest stages, having won back-to-back Paralympic Games silver medals at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, but the pathway to qualifying for Birmingham 2022 isn’t without its challenges.
After three players are picked by the National Selection Panel, there will be one final spot up for grabs for a male player at the Australian Qualification Tournament for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, set to take place from 14-15 May in Adelaide.
With the best players across the country set to compete in Adelaide, Von Einem said it will be difficult to win that final spot.
“It will be a very strong competition with lots of tough matches which is why I am keen to play to gain the experience of playing tough matches in big tournaments against the best players as this will benefit me with the Para side of things as well,” he said.
In the lead up to the qualification tournament, von Einem plans on competing at as many tournaments as he can, to get matches under his belt, alongside his general training.
Currently, the South Australian athlete is aiming to have 15 hours of training a week with five sessions per week on the table and three gym sessions. Despite the task ahead of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games, von Einem is trying to treat it as any other competition.
“I am trying to keep it the same as playing in other tournaments, it is good to have a tournament to play in that will have strong matches, I’m trying to not put too much pressure on myself in terms of results.”
With thanks Table Tennis Australia.