Simpkins wins multiple gold in debut nationals appearance

Mike Simpkins and Celine Vinot on court at the National Para Badminton Championships, watched by coach Naman Bhardwaj (right). (Supplied)

Matt Hewson

A Geelong badminton player has collected four medals at his first appearance on the national stage.

Mike Simpkins, 36, won three gold medals and one silver in a brilliant display at the Australian National Para Badminton Championships last weekend in Altona North.

Simpkins, who only began playing badminton 15 months ago, earned selection after winning the 2023 Victorian singles crown in his first experience of high level tournament play.

After winning his first nationals medal with a silver in the Combined Mixed Doubles alongside Victoria Orange partner Celine Vinot, Simpkins went on to take gold in the Standing Upper 5 Singles and Combined Standing Men’s Doubles.

Simpkins also contributed to Victoria Orange’s State Team win, as did fellow Badminton Geelong para player Alex Mckewan, while a third Geelong competitor, Brooke Holt, took out silver in the Combined WH1 WH2 Wheelchair Doubles.

In a dramatic turn, Simpkins’ regular men’s doubles partner was forced to withdraw with illness on the first day of the championships.

However, Simpkin was able to pair with fellow Victorian team member Baljeet Singh at the last minute, despite not having met before the tournament began.

“I got the news at about 8am that my doubles partner was ill and wouldn’t be competing, so I just thought, right, refocus,” Simpkins said.

“Baljeet and I had never played together and had completely different styles of play, but they turned out to be complimentary on court,” Simpkins said.

“He was my first opponent in the singles, and it was a pretty tight little match. After we finished I said to him, it’s going to be fun when we get to play doubles, so I was confident we were going to be okay to play doubles together.”

Simpkins paid tribute to Geelong Badminton Academy head coach and Badminton Victoria state development coach Naman Bhardwaj, who helped him manage the distractions of a major tournament.

Bhardwaj, who is also the sports development and facilities manager at Badminton Geelong, said Simpkins’ dedication to training had paid off.

“For Mike to achieve these results with his limited experience is a tremendous accomplishment and shows he can match it at the highest level.”

Simpkins now has his eye on international competition, including the Badminton Oceania Para tournament next year and the Los Angeles Paralympics in 2028.