Paddlers must turn the tables

National paddler Gao Ning is set to qualify for his third Olympic Games this week. But this time, he might not get to compete in the team event.
National paddler Gao Ning is set to qualify for his third Olympic Games this week. But this time, he might not get to compete in the team event. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Men's team have to hope their Olympic ranking improves this week or they will miss out on Rio

The national men's table tennis team's hopes of Olympic qualification are hanging in the balance as they face an anxious wait for the latest world rankings to be published this week.

While Gao Ning and Yu Mengyu look set to book their tickets to the Aug 5-21 Rio Games in the singles events based on world rankings, the chances of Singapore contesting the men's team event looks less assured.

A total of 16 sides will contest the team event, with at least one berth given to each of the six continents.

World No. 1 China and No. 2 Germany are set to fill the Asia and Europe quotas.

To earn one of the remaining slots, Singapore needs to be among the top 12 on the International Table Tennis Federation's Olympic team ranking list.

Currently No. 13 behind Russia, the Singapore men's team are one rung away from making the cut.

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) senior high performance manager Eddy Tay told The Straits Times yesterday: "Gao Ning's and Mengyu's places in the singles events are more or less confirmed. But we will have to wait and see how any changes in rankings for the men's players will affect the team rankings, and also how much Russia's placing will change."

The Olympic team rankings are based on the rating points of the three highest Olympic-eligible players of each side.

The hope is that Gao (No. 27), Li Hu (No. 51) and Chen Feng (No. 149) can overtake Russia's Alexander Shibaev (No. 22), Grigory Vlasov (No. 58) and Alexy Liventsov (No. 93). The STTA will be banking on the ranking points earned from Chen's performance at the Asian qualifier last month and Gao's semi-final exploits at last week's Asian Cup.

Table tennis is Singapore's most successful sport, delivering a silver and two bronzes from the last two Olympics.

Should the rankings not go the Republic's way, it will be the first time since the team event was added to the table tennis competition at the 2008 Beijing Games that the men have failed to make the cut.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, the men's team, made up of Gao, Yang Zi and Zhan Jian, made the quarter-finals, where they were beaten by eventual champions China. Zhan has since retired.

Feng Tianwei and Olympic debutant Chen, 22, previously booked their places in the singles event through the Asian qualifier.

It would also be Yu's maiden Games should the world No. 23 make the cut as expected. The 26-year-old's inclusion would allow Singapore to earn an additional athlete quota place to contest the women's team event.

A five-man selection committee, including the head coaches of the men's and women's teams, will decide who will join the Olympic squad as the third player in the team event. They will assess eligible athletes based on world ranking, doubles results, and technical ability, particularly against different playing styles.

The women's team will be completed by world No. 48 Zhou Yihan or No. 67 Lin Ye. A decision is expected by the middle of the month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Paddlers must turn the tables'. Print Edition | Subscribe