Keys to bring Singapore table tennis forward

Mission accomplished at the 2012 London Olympics.

So where does the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) go from here for the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Development of young players, more competition experience and more funding for different kinds of sparrings were the replies thrown at The New Paper in the aftermath of the women team's bronze medal victory over South Korea on Tuesday evening.

The sport achieved its two-medal target at the Games when Feng Tianwei won the bronze in the women's singles, and then another one together with Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu in the women's team event.

Both deputy women's head coach Jing Junhong and STTA president and MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah said the nurturing of the next wave of players will be key in preparing for the 2016 Olympics.

After all, Li and Wang would be 35 and 36 respectively at the Rio Olympics, with Feng realistically leading Singapore's charge for medals there.

Said Jing: "It would be tough for Jiawei and Yuegu to continue for another Olympic cycle, but regardless or whether they continue or not, we would still need young players to come up.

"Among our main opponents, China and Japan have young teams here, while South Korea's team are comparatively old, so our main task is to field a team that have the calibre to challenge them."

Among those waiting in the wings are Yu Mengyu, Zhou Yihan and Isabelle Li.

Ms Lee said: "Isabelle is aiming for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and, after that, the Asian Games before the 2016 Olympics.

"Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa (who is 19) has improved so much in the past two years and we have the next four years, so definitely we are looking to groom the next batch of players.

"Jiawei and Yuegu can still contribute with their experience."

But Jing warned that the road will not be easy, and the younger players will need to be one-minded about reaching and doing for the Olympics.

The former national paddler said: "We need young players who are willing to concentrate on a table tennis career. We have a good system for training and competition but it will all come to nothing if we don't have players who are willing to make sacrifices for table tennis.

"Someone asked what the secret to Singapore's success was - the players here are very focused on their goals and that one-mindedness helped them overcome all obstacles in training and competition.

"Among the younger players, Mengyu is a diamond in the rough. She did well at the Asian Championships and got decent results in the Pro Tour this year. But there's still some distance between her peers and the current team."

On achieving the medal target, Ms Lee said: "It was a very tall order, but then we always want to aim high, it's something that players can aspire to achieve.

"What I like most is their fighting spirit - despite the injuries that they have and the loss to Japan, they soldiered on and bounced back so well today."

The New Paper walked with her as she spoke, and asked her for her medal target for the 2016 Olympics.

Laughing as she walked out of the arena for lunch with the team, she said: "It's too early to set any targets, let's celebrate first."

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