A period of unprecedented success seems to have done the Singapore women's table tennis team no favours in its search for a new head coach.
The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) told The Straits Times yesterday that it found no suitable candidates in its global search, before choosing to look within, handing former assistant head coach Hao Anlin the reins.
It has also appointed men's team head coach Liu Jiayi as team leader for the coaching set-up, adding to the 67-year-old's existing portfolio.
Hao, 30, starts work today.
The women's team had beaten China in 2010 to be crowned world champions and won a handful of medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
In response to queries from ST, STTA senior high performance manager Eddy Tay said the association conducted an "open recruitment drive" and placed advertisements on Jobs Bank, the STTA and the International Table Tennis Federation websites.
However, he said there was limited success in replacing head coach Chen Zhibin, whose contract ran out at the end of March.
Tay added that the STTA approached several coaches from China and Europe, but was unable to recruit anyone.
The STTA is now looking for a women's team assistant coach.
It declined to disclose more details and also would not comment on the seemingly lukewarm response to the position.
The STTA, however, is confident Hao's four years as Chen's assistant have prepared him for the new role. Hao's interview was conducted by the STTA and the Singapore Sports Institute before he was approved.
Hao, a Shandong native who arrived in Singapore in 2005 as a sparring partner, is the youngest and most inexperienced coach to take charge of the women's team in more than a decade.
The defensive specialist, with a career-high ranking of No. 309, competed on the professional circuit under the Republic's auspices until end-2011. He turned to coaching after the 2012 Olympics.
He follows several veteran China coaches that have led the women's team in recent years. They were Liu Guodong - who helped deliver Singapore's first Olympic medal in 48 years at the 2008 Beijing Games - and Zhou Shusen, who masterminded the 2010 world Championships triumph in Moscow.
In a text message sent through the STTA, Hao conceded that the expectations placed on him are now starkly different than before.
He said: "A sparring partner only needs to mimic different styles of opponents as requested by the team... while as the head coach, I'm responsible for raising the overall standards of the team to achieve results like we have before.
"It brings with it a different kind of pressure."
He insisted his defensive style would not stand in the way of coaching a team of players who all adopt a more attacking approach.
"I may be a defensive player, but I'm familiar with all kinds of playing styles while I was a sparring partner for the team. I've also built up camaraderie with the players through the years," he said.
"I've picked up experience on attacking styles of play under the previous head coaches. I'm confident I'll be able to help raise the level of the team."