From grandad's table tennis club to an Olympic qualifier for Carey

By Tom BrownBBC Sport Wales
'Moving abroad at 16 was what I had to do'

Charlotte Carey admits even her parents wonder how she copes.

Since she was 16, she's lived abroad in Hungary, Germany and now Sweden. Travelling the continent, often alone, with the sole hope of becoming the best table tennis player she can be.

Now, aged 23, Carey plays in the top flight of European table tennis, the Champions League, and this week has a chance of helping Great Britain secure a place at this summer's Tokyo Olympics.

No Welsh player has ever made it to an Olympics before.

"It's a big honour to play for Great Britain," Carey told BBC Sport Wales. "And to be one of the first Welsh people to do it.

"We've all talked about it and looked at videos of Tokyo. It'd be amazing to play there."

Carey will compete at the Olympic qualifying event in a team alongside Tin-Tin Ho and Maria Tsaptsinos.

They play 14th seeds Spain on Wednesday afternoon. A win will give them a chance of qualification later in the week.

Inspired by her grandad

Table tennis player Charlotte Carey was inspired to play by her grandad Malcolm
Table tennis player Charlotte Carey and her grandad Malcolm

It is almost eight years since Carey left her home in the south Wales town of Ebbw Vale, where her grandad Malcolm introduced her to the sport.

A keen player himself, he would pick the young Charlotte up from school and she would beg him to take her with him to the local club.

"I loved it, playing with all the old men," recalls Carey. "I really loved spending time with my grandad.

"Then I got a Welsh call-up to come and train in one of the training centres."

At 16, after completing her GCSEs, Carey was aiming for university. But a chance to play table tennis in Hungary came along and she took it.

She then moved to Germany and eventually Sweden, where she has lived and played full time since.

"It was quite a big decision," Carey admits. "All my friends were going to university and it was a big step to leave everyone behind. I love my little town.

"But I'm glad I made the step. I'm enjoying it and progressing."

Solo traveller

Most weekends Carey plays for Spanish club Girbau Vic TT, based near Barcelona. That's more than 1,400 miles away from her Swedish home in Halmstad.

But Carey says the pull of the Champions League, and Europe's best players, makes it worth the huge amount of travelling.

"I definitely had to grow up a lot sooner," says Carey.

"I've spent a lot of situations on my own and people are like, 'how are you doing it?'. My parents are always wondering how I'm dealing with being on my own.

"But when I'm travelling around it's fine and I guess it's what I've got to do to be a top player."

Charlotte's grandfather Malcolm still plays table tennis. A fear of flying means he rarely gets to watch her play in person any more. But he always follows her results.

This week he could see her secure Great Britain a spot at an Olympic Games.