IN a sports hall in a small Lincolnshire market town, the sound of table tennis balls can be heard popping away almost every hour of the day.
Springing around the table like a gazelle, Yolanda King makes a bold impression.
The speed of her movement, razor-sharp reflexes and eagle-eyed stare prove this is no ordinary 18-year-old.
In the next few years, the ambitious teenager could be locking horns with some of the best players in the world.
As a member of the Grantham Table Tennis Academy based at Grantham College, Yolanda is now one of the country’s top 10 women.
It is all a far cry from when the mild-mannered youngster from St Leonards first picked up a bat aged seven.
Yolanda’s father Stephen ran a table tennis class once a week at St Paul’s School in Amherst Road.
The impact was immediate.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Yolanda was better on her first go than some of the kids I had coached for three months.
“She kept her eye on the ball and had a natural feel for the game. She had only kicked a football around at home before and been swimming since she was four so it was a complete shock.”
After playing at a club at St Leonards Academy for a year, Yolanda moved to the Weald Table Tennis Club at The High Weald Academy in Cranbrook where she met her first coach and mentor Ken Muhr.
It was Ken who discovered and nurtured her raw talent and helped put her on the road that would shape her future.
She went on to win a string of regional, national and international junior titles (See Yolanda’s CV-right)
And by the age of 16, she had hit the top 10 of the England women’s ranking.
“I knew she was something special very early on.” said Ken.
“She was quick and keen and I knew we were onto something.
“She developed very quickly and was eager to learn.
“It was a joy to work with her and watch her grow from a talented young girl to an accomplished young woman.
“In the 40 years I have been coaching, she is one of the best female players I have ever worked with.
“She is a good position to qualify for Rio. She has a very good game now.
“I think it will be a real achievement to get to Rio and have that experience at such a young age.
“A medal would be unlikely but she is the right age for her first Olympics and she will be among the best our country has to offer.”
A former student of Claremont School and St Bedes in Hailsham, Yolanda is busy studying for A-levels in Geography, biology and PE at Grantham Academy where she lives during the week.
She has already caused a stir in the rural market town by becoming the only girl from the academy to be allowed into the Kings Grammar School for Boys to study geography A-level.
And she is also having to make tough decisions.
Nottingham University, Sheffield University and King’s College in London have offered her a place to study geography in September.
Yolanda said: “I am just taking one step at a time.
“I struggled with everything here at first. I was a long way from home and left all my school friends behind.
“It was hard. But once I got into a routine and got settled in everything started to go well.
“I have made friends here now and am enjoying the challenge.”
The first challenge is getting into the Under 21 squad via the senior national championships in March in Sheffield. Then the 2014 Commonwealth Games would become the first target on the long road to Rio.
“I would love to go to Rio but it’s just one step at a time,” she added. “The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is a target first.
“I have come a long way in a short space of time and I will just keep working hard.
“I try not to set big goals. I am trying to work on my speed around the table.
“I must thank the Hastings Youth Trust for their backing over the last two years.
“It’s all quite exciting and Rio is definitely on my mind.”