Table tennis: Despite relative inexperience, paddlers optimistic of Olympic medal chance

Feng Tianwei hits a return during the women's singles quarter-final table tennis match at the ITTF World Tour Japan Open table tennis tournament, on June 18, 2016.
Feng Tianwei hits a return during the women's singles quarter-final table tennis match at the ITTF World Tour Japan Open table tennis tournament, on June 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - In terms of numbers, Singapore's table tennis team is fielding a smaller squad to next month's Olympic Games. When it comes to strength, the athletes are also more inexperienced compared to previous teams.

But the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) and its paddlers remain optimistic of their medal chances at the Rio de Janeiro Games, which are held Aug 5-21.

When asked about medal hopes at a media conference held Monday at the STTA headquarters at Toa Payoh, STTA president Ellen Lee said confidently: "I think that's what we're going to Rio for."

She also said in her opening address: "I'm quite sure that all eyes will be on our women's team. I'm very confident that despite the challenges ahead in facing stiff competitors from China, Japan, Hong Kong, (North and South) Korea, our players will give their all to stand tall amongst them."

The women's team returned from the London Games four years ago with two bronze medals, one in the women's team and the other won by Feng Tianwei in the singles. But stalwarts Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei had since hung up their bats, with Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan taking their place.

While acknowledging the big test ahead of them, the paddlers are also confident their preparation work so far will put them in good stead. A late climb up the world rankings has assured Feng of the No. 2 seeding in the singles, while the women's team is also likely to be seeded No. 4, avoiding the major powerhouses until at least the semi-finals.

Said Feng: "I choose to believe in our team. Other teams also have younger and new players. So I believe in my team-mates, in our team. I just hope we can be united as a team. As long as we play with no regrets, I believe the result should not be too bad."

The men's team did not qualify this time, with only Gao Ning and debutant Chen Feng entered in the singles event.

The paddlers will leave for the United States on Wednesday for a 10-day acclimatisation training camp in New Jersey, before taking the flight down to Brazil.