RISING badminton star Harper Leigh is set to create his own piece of history by becoming the first Welsh player to compete at the European Under-15 Championships.
The 13-year-old from Rogerstone is travelling to Lievin in north-east France today ahead of a tough opening match tomorrow against Hungarian third seed Csanad Horvath.
Leigh, a Year 8 pupil at Bassaleg School, is one of five British boys taking part in the singles tournament, and he goes into it fresh from a successful trip to Malaga.
Five-time Welsh champion Leigh and new doubles partner Callan Short, from Scotland, claimed gold at the Spanish Open, while the Gwent ace previously finished Irish Open singles runner-up.
An under-13 and under-15 Welsh international, Leigh trains at Newport Badminton Academy and Badminton Wales’ Regional Academy under Raj Popat and Donal O’Halloran respectively.
As well as France, the youngster has events scheduled for Belgium, Serbia, Germany, Croatia and Finland this year, as well as domestic competitions in England and Scotland.
Selection for the Europeans is another big step forward for someone who took up the sport in 2016.
A keen cricketer, he had a go at tennis, table tennis and squash before settling on badminton after a taster session at a racquet sports club in Cardiff.
“He liked badminton because he felt it was the most physical of the racquet sports he tried, he felt he got fitter playing it,” said dad Dylan.
“He found it was the toughest of them all, but he enjoyed that aspect of it.
“He loves the training, and that was the first thing he wanted to do after coming back from Spain.
“He has won some decent trophies over the years, including a few Welsh ones, but a first title at a competition in Europe was a big step forward.
“He won six games in Spain last weekend and played really well with Callan.”
He continued: “Harper has had a really good season. He has won several tournaments in England, in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
“We’ve probably seen the biggest improvements over the last year.
“For his coaches, it has probably been since he stopped going to cricket training over the winter.
“Committing to one sport seems to have made a difference.
“Wales have never sent anyone to the European U15s and Harper is looking forward to it.
“It is a straight knockout in the singles and he has drawn the third seed from Hungary.
“Harper has ambitions of becoming an elite badminton player and this is another step in the right direction.
“After this, Harper’s aim is to make the team for the European Under-17 Championships in 2021, and then take all of his junior experience into senior badminton.
“His long-term aim is to be the best under-17 in Britain by the end of 2022, he hasn’t looked further than that.”
Financial backing is hugely important to a youngster’s hopes of progressing, and it’s no different for Leigh with the increasing costs of training, travelling, accommodation and equipment.
If any local businesses can help with sponsorship, they should get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org