Will Bayley is on target to defend his Paralympic table tennis title in Tokyo despite dropping out of Strictly Come Dancing due to an injury.
The 31-year-old was forced to pull out of the celebrity BBC show in week seven after hurting his knee during rehearsals.
Bayley – who danced on the table after claiming gold in the Class 7 category in Rio in 2016 – initially feared the incident could threaten his hopes of defending his title.
But British Para Table Tennis performance director Gorazd Vecko believes Bayley is not only on track for Japan – but that his dancing stint could make him more competitive than ever.
Vecko told the PA news agency: “Will’s knee injury will continue to be assessed by the medical team at the EIS in Sheffield over the next few weeks.
“But they are confident that he will be fully fit to defend his Paralympic title in Tokyo next summer.
“Will has enjoyed taking on a new challenge and feels that learning to dance has improved his balance and movement, both of which will help him when he is playing table tennis.”
Great Britain team-mate and two-time Paralympic bronze medallist Aaron McKibbin paid tribute to the impact Bayley’s Strictly appearance has had on their sport.
McKibbin told PA: “All of a sudden everybody seems to know what Para table tennis is. What Will’s done has been incredible and it can only continue to help raise the profile.”
Bayley was in the Strictly audience at the weekend to support the remaining celebrities and dancers.
Appearing on ITV’s Loose Women on Monday, he said: “I achieved everything I wanted coming on to the show.
“When I was growing up I was always looking for someone with my disability to sort of look up to, not look up to, just someone to see doing things.
“With my condition it was all quite clinical stuff … I wanted to see someone dancing or someone playing sport. I’ve had so many lovely emails, hopefully I’ve made some kind of difference.”