Table tennis aims to make history at 2012 Olympics

Much has been made of the current slump in form of the Singapore table tennis women.

Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei all own Olympic silver medals, after they claimed second spot in the women's team event at the Beijing Games in 2008.

In four weeks, the 2012 Olympics will get underway in London, and the trio will enter the Games after some poor performances over the last few months.

Despite their erratic form, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) will not revise their two-medal target for the London Games.

Speaking at a pre-Olympic media conference yesterday at the Toa Payoh Sports Hall, STTA president Lee Bee Wah acknowledged that the team "have had their ups and downs" and "may need a little luck in the draw".

But, when asked by The New Paper if she would like to revise her medal targets, she replied: "There are a lot of uncertainties in sport, but when we aim for something, we must aim high.

"We roped in (women's team head coach) Zhou Shusen after the Beijing Olympics and set the two-medal target for our women's team, and we have been working very hard towards this objective.

"It would be very challenging - every point and every player will be important - but I would not revise my target downwards.

"I am sure our players will do their best, everyone would like to bring glory to Singapore and I hope we can all celebrate at the end of the Games."

In 29 Olympic Games, Singapore have only won two medals - the 1960 weightlifting silver by Tan Howe Liang and the table tennis team silver in 2008.

The STTA aims to make history in London, but the task has become harder.

The Singapore women entered the Beijing Games world ranked No. 2, which meant the only time they could meet the all-conquering Chinese was in the final.

The paddlers duly made the final, where they were whitewashed by the Chinese in the battle for gold. This time around, the recent poor form of the paddlers has ensured they go to London world ranked No. 3, behind Japan and the imperious Chinese.

That means there is a 50-50 chance of a semi-final meeting with China.

Feng, who has tumbled to No. 10 in the world after reaching as high as No. 2, acknowledged that her individual target of a singles medal has also become tougher because of her ranking.

Hard work

She said: "Because of my rankings I may meet a Chinese player in the quarter-finals. I am still aiming to win a medal but it is more difficult now.

"However, I hope I will get a breakthrough after the hard work I put in during the centralised training."

The women's trio proved their ability when they finished second behind China at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in late March.

But they have also crashed out to lower-ranked opponents at various tournaments this year, and it resulted in Japan taking over as No. 2 in the world rankings.

While the women are dogged by uncertainty, there is an air of optimism surrounding the men's camp. Doubles expert Zhan Jian will join Gao Ning and Yang Zi in the team event after he came through a qualification tournament in February in a boost for the men.

Said men's head coach, Yang Chuanning: "Of course I want to win the gold medal but the reality is that the men's game is much tougher with strong teams hailing not just from Asia - China, Japan and South Korea - but also Germany and Russia."

Yang believes the squad have improved a lot since he was hired by the STTA in 2010, and he will focus on the doubles component of the team event over the next few weeks.

STTA chief Lee yesterday repeatedly made the call for Singaporeans to support the six paddlers and 13 other Olympic-bound Singaporean athletes. She revealed that the STTA was working with the Singapore Sports Council and grassroots organisations to organise screenings in the heartlands.

She said: "The support from Singaporeans will be crucial and I hope they will rally behind Team Singapore for London 2012."

sayheng@sph.com.sg

 This article was first published in The New Paper.

Become a fan on Facebook