For the first time, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games saw badminton be featured as one of the sports in competition and Krysten Coombs made his Paralympic debut this summer coming away with a Bronze medal for Great Britain after winning the Bronze Medal Match against Vitor Tavares for Brazil. Before heading to Tokyo, Krysten became the Spanish International Champion and he is now waiting to hear which competitions will be in his schedule for next year. Krysten is also an actor, having appeared in Game of Thrones alongside a cast including Peter Dinklage. Talking with us, Krysten speaks about making his Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020, winning the Bronze Medal Match at the Games and becoming the Spanish International Champion.
Having recently returned from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, how was your experience in Tokyo and making your Paralympic debut?
The experience of Tokyo was amazing. It’s a dream come true to compete at the Paralympics, and to be able to be part of the debut for para badminton was an honour as well. The whole experience of the Games was just a wow factor with the size of the village and the Team GB environment. Having the whole team together was brilliant and we’ve never really been part of a multi-sport environment and I think being one big team together is another factor as to what makes the Paralympics or Olympics so amazing. Due to COVID, it maybe wasn’t as supportive as it would have been but I think everyone still made an effort to make the Games as good an experience as it could be for everyone.
Can you tell us what it was like competing in the Bronze Medal Match against Vitor Tavares where you won and came away with Bronze?
All the games were amazing but I think Bronze Medal Matches are always quite mentally tough because you know that only one of you will win a medal. I didn’t have the best of starts, I wouldn’t say that I was poor in the first set, but my game plan didn’t go exactly the way I wanted it to. I was able to push through in the second and third set and come away with the Bronze medal. To have that opportunity of being a Paralympic Bronze medalist is amazing!
How was it winning your first Paralympic medal and standing on the podium in Tokyo?
Winning my first Paralympic medal was a dream come true. Obviously the goal was to win Gold but to be able to say I’m a Paralympian and I’m a Bronze medalist is amazing. It’s what I’ve been working towards since 2008 and it takes time, commitment and hard work to give yourself the best opportunity.
What did you enjoy most about staying in the athletes village and being part of Team GB?
I think it’s just being in a multi-sport environment where we’re all on one team supporting everyone. Also, coming back to the village and seeing everyone’s names of who won medals that day and having people give a round of applause. I think it’s just that whole environment that makes it so amazing. The athletes village is an incredible experience with the dining hall and the amount of blocks that have got lots of different countries. I think it’s generally just a wow experience.
How did you prepare in the lead-up to the Games and how did you stay focussed throughout the competition?
I made sure I was in the right mental state and that I was in the best possible state I could be in with everything like on court stuff, S&C and outside things going on… I just made sure they were all up to where I needed it to be. This meant that when I got to Tokyo, I could be in the best shape and best possible mindset I could be in. We actually had a prep camp at Keo University just before we went into the village and I think that was a great part of my prep for the Games. I think that let us be able to see what was going on and prepare ourselves. You can sometimes get a little bit distracted in the village environment and, as a Paralympic debut for the sport, we were unsure of certain things that would happen and how things would be, so I think being able to be away was good as we could keep our focus and our training and just prepare ourselves for our first games. When the Games had started, I was then able to go in from that great build-up and keep that going through the whole Games, which obviously paid off and won me a Bronze medal!
Can you tell us about becoming the Spanish International Champion?
It was the last qualifying tournament so I think it was a great thing to be able to win. We’d had such a long time off from international competitions because of COVID but we were lucky enough to keep training in a safe environment which was brilliant. I think winning the last qualifying tournament of the Paralympic cycle and knowing there would be a few more months before we went out to the Games gave me a positive feeling that I was at a great part of my game at that moment and that, hopefully, I’d be able to carry that on into the Paralympics.
How was it returning to competitions through COVID?
It was obviously a little bit different, we had a lot more protocols that we had to take that we didn’t have to do before, we had a lot of testing and we had to prepare ourselves to be in a little bit more of a tighter environment as we couldn’t go out and socialise like we usually do at other competitions. We’d all been in a safe environment before that, and obviously it was different, but I think we knew what to expect and we knew it would be a little bit tougher and that we’d have to mentally prepare ourselves to just get through it and keep focus.
What are some of your highlights from your career so far?
I think finding out that badminton was going to be in the Paralympics! And also the day that I found out that I would be a full-time funded athlete for UK Sport. I think they’re just the dreams. Then obviously finding out a few years later that I would be going to Tokyo, which was another dream of mine. I suppose it probably is the whole Paralympic environment – the funding, finding out I’d be going, the kit… I think all of that makes the Paralympics the highlight of my career so far. Being able to say I’m a Paralympian is a dream come true.
When did you first get into badminton and how did you start?
I first got into badminton through school and the Dwarf Sports Association. I had some friends at school that went to a club, people did it at PE and I also went to the Dwarf Sports Association every year as a national games and I think there was an opportunity once that we were able to take part in badminton. I gave it a go and loved it! I think I’ve always been very sporty and loved pretty much every sport I try. Badminton seemed to be the one that I could go further in.
Have you been given any advice throughout your career that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a badminton player starting out?
I think to enjoy yourself, to take every opportunity that you get and don’t be afraid to just get out there and do something that might lead to making a career out of it or give you an opportunity that you would never forget. Going to the Paralympics, winning medals there and winning World medals is amazing, but at the same time, so is being able to compete, doing something that I love and inspiring a generation. There are people in the past that have inspired me and I’ve seen from other people that it’s just about enjoying life and getting out there and doing the things you can do. It’s about giving everything your best shot.
If you get an opportunity or if you see something that you might enjoy doing, just give it a go. It’s not all about the winning, it’s about the taking part and enjoying it.
Is there anything you enjoy most about being involved with sports?
I think being able to go away and compete at the top level and doing something I love all over the world. Also, being able to inspire people and showing that having a disability does not stop you, you can get out there and be the best you can be.
Do you have any favourite memories from appearing in Game of Thrones as an actor?
My favourite memories are probably meeting Peter Dinklage – he’s been a bit of an inspiration for me! When I was younger, my parents and I watched a film that he was in called The Station Agent and I think that gave me a perception of what I can achieve and what he’s done in life. I think he’s one of my biggest and favourite memories from filming. I also think being on set and getting to experience being in a very large TV production has been something that I can take great memories from and could lead to other opportunities.
How did you find the experience on set of the show and working with the rest of the cast?
The experience on set and working with the other cast members was brilliant. We were lucky because we had a good few members of the cast in the scene and we went out to Croatia for five days and did the filming there, which was brilliant. I also went to Belfast a few times because that’s where their inside sets and base was, at the old Titanic studio. The cast and the whole production team were brilliant. Everyone was so warm, welcoming and helpful and made it such a great experience.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
I’m very sporty so I love to watch football and golf on TV. I love playing golf as well. I love anything to do with sport really. I’ll happily watch a basketball game or a lacrosse game, or anything that’s on. I also love doing stuff with my fiancée Alex like going out for walks, exploring and going to cafes. I just enjoy being very active and doing a lot of things, I think.
Are you currently preparing for any future competitions and which are you aiming for in the next year?
At the moment, we’re waiting for future competitions as the calendar hasn’t actually been done yet for us for next year. Obviously Paris 2024 is the goal but at the moment, we’re just waiting to see what the next calendar is.
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