Asean Para Games: Silver lining despite loss

Gold eludes Chee but medal haul from S'pore paddlers surpasses that from last year's APG

Jason Chee failed to conjure up a sixth straight win over Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet despite being roared on by the OCBC Arena crowd and had to settle for silver
Jason Chee failed to conjure up a sixth straight win over Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet despite being roared on by the OCBC Arena crowd and had to settle for silverST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A sixth straight victory over Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet proved beyond local paddler Jason Chee as he had to settle for silver in the Asean Para Games (APG) men's individual table tennis SM2 class.

In a tense final round-robin match, the Singaporean paddler was defeated 8-11, 11-6, 7-11, 14-12, 6-11 yesterday at the OCBC Arena.

Chee, 32, had beaten his younger opponent in all five of their previous encounters, including last Saturday in the men's team (S1-2) event which clinched a historic APG gold for the Republic, but could not extend that run.

The disappointment was still ringing in his voice afterwards as Chee, who was comforted by chief of navy Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han, said: "I'm a bit upset because I know I can beat him and no one wants to lose in front of your home crowd."

Just like their previous match, it was the 24-year-old Natthawut who gained the upper hand and took the first game.

Chee, a navy serviceman who lost his legs and left arm in a ship accident in 2012, responded quickly and another comeback seemed imminent, to the delight of the near-capacity 855-seater Hall 1.

The fourth game, when Chee - who at times looked like he was about to fall off his motorised wheelchair as he lunged to reach the ball but was held back by a black elastic strap - saved a match point at 11-12, appeared to swing the momentum back to the home favourite. He reeled off the next three points to force a deciding fifth game.

But despite the urging of the spectators, who included team-mate Tay Wei Ming and members of his 191 SQN shouting "Jiayou (Come on) Jason", Chee fell behind and could not recover.

He said: "It was a really tough fight. I tried different kinds of serves but he was able to return them well. I made a few mistakes and he kept attacking my forehand, which is weaker than my backhand.

"After that fourth game, I was very happy but then my game went haywire."

The Thais had done their homework, noted Table Tennis Association for the Disabled Singapore president Kevin Pang.

"They studied videos and identified Jason's weaknesses and came up with a strategy that worked today," he said.

Still, there were many positives to draw from the loss, added Chee, who won a team bronze at last year's APG in Myanmar.

Earlier, his team-mates Aaron Yeo and Stanley Lim had won a silver and bronze in the Class 1 division while Evelyn Lim was second in the Class 11 event.

Singapore finished with a total of seven medals (1-3-3), an improvement from their five-bronze haul from last year.

Thailand and Indonesia, with 16 and 14 golds respectively, were the dominant countries in the sport.

Said Chee: "It's been a great tournament for all of us. We couldn't have done it without the great support from the fans.

"It means so much to see so many Singaporeans cheering us on."

The words "Dare to Win" were emblazoned on one supporter's red shirt. It fittingly captured the match before him. Chee may not have won last night but it was not for the lack of trying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'SILVER LINING DESPITE LOSS'. Print Edition | Subscribe