Cracks appear amid regular success

Feng Tianwei (left) and Yu Mengyu lost badly to China's Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling in their ITTF Polish Open women's doubles final after a disagreement between Yu and head coach Jing Junhong.
Feng Tianwei (left) and Yu Mengyu lost badly to China's Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling in their ITTF Polish Open women's doubles final after a disagreement between Yu and head coach Jing Junhong.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Women paddlers' coaching spat may disrupt Olympic preparations

For almost a decade, the Singapore women's table tennis team held a united front as arguably the Republic's strongest sports side, winning medals galore at the Olympics, World Championships, Asian Games and SEA Games.

But in the aftermath of a doubles defeat in the International Table Tennis Federation Polish Open on Sunday, Yu Mengyu's uncharacteristic outburst revealed that, perhaps, all is not well with less than 10 months to go before next August's Rio Olympics.

This has led the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) to open an investigation into the fallout between national women's team head coach Jing Junhong and the doubles pair of Yu and Feng Tianwei.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

The STTA is taking a very serious view of this matter and will be investigating the matter.

WONG HUI LENG , STTA chief executive officer, on the coaching dispute affecting the women's national table tennis team

Its chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng said in a statement yesterday: "The STTA has been informed by the team manager (of) the coaching dispute after the event. 

"The STTA is taking a very serious view of this matter and will be investigating the matter."

On Sunday, after losing the Polish Open women's doubles final, Feng and Yu revealed to The Straits Times that coaching disputes a day earlier had affected their performance.

The final saw the top seeds crash 9-11, 3-11, 7-11 to China's Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling in under 20 minutes. The manner of the defeat was surprising as the Singapore pair had entered the final on the back of an inspired win over China's Liu Shiwen and Li Xiaoxia in the semi-final.

After the defeat, Yu said that Jing's insistence on coaching her for her last-16 singles match against world No. 2 Liu, which took place after the semi-final win, had affected her.

The player, who has been coached by Hao Anlin since the Asian Championships, had tried to protest the decision, but was told that her other options were to either play without a coach or forfeit the match.

According to Yu, Jing relented only after team officials and the umpire stepped in, but Yu said the damage had been done. The world No. 29 lost 6-11, 7-11, 9-11, 5-11 to Liu.

Yu had said: "I don't understand. As a coach, you should encourage your players before a match, instead of arguing with them."

Eyebrows were also raised when Jing did not coach Feng's singles matches at the competition, while deputy head coach Liu Jiayi coached Feng and Yu for their doubles campaign.

The conflict casts an unfortunate shadow over Singapore's most successful sport at the Olympics.

In 2008, the women's team comprising Feng, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu ended Singapore's 48-year wait for an Olympic medal when they finished second behind China.

Four years later, they clinched two bronze medals in the women's singles and team events.

The Straits Times understands that relations between Jing and some of her players have been strained for a while, and that local sports governing body Sport Singapore is looking into the situation.

Jing, a former national player who finished fourth in the women's singles at the 2000 Olympics, could not be reached for comment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Cracks appear amid regular success'. Print Edition | Subscribe