"Big brother" Gao Ning has stepped up from teammate to head coach of the young Singapore men's table tennis team this year.
The 36-year-old retired from playing last year and was an assistant coach before the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) announced his new appointment yesterday. Gao replaces Liu Jiayi, 69, who retires in three months.
Gao told The Straits Times: "I am very honoured to take over this team. I have been in the team for many years, and now I am still able to contribute as a coach.
"I feel I am a strict and responsible coach because these are the two qualities any coach must first have.
"I want to impart and share the tactics and techniques I learnt as a player, analyse in depth every tactical detail during training, and drill into each player a strong foundation of basic techniques."
The three-time Olympian takes over a team in transition and devoid of any China-born paddler after his retirement. In addition to Clarence Chew, 23, and Ethan Poh, 19, the STTA promoted Josh Chua, 18, and Koen Pang, 17, to the men's national team. Goi Rui Xuan and Wong Xinru, both 18, have joined the women's national team.
"This is a local-born team, and there is a long way to go as they are quite young and have a lot of room for improvement," added Gao.
"Those who were recently promoted, Josh and Koen, are not bad. Clarence has experience in big tournaments and will be our key player, while every player will need to improve all round."
Major events this year include the World Table Tennis Championships in April and the Asian Table Tennis Championships in September, but Gao has identified the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines as a priority.
At the last SEA Games in Malaysia in 2017, Gao won gold medals in the men's singles and doubles (teaming up with the now-retired Pang Xue Jie), but the Republic lost the team gold to Vietnam.
He was encouraged by the team's strong showing at the South-east Asian Table Tennis Championships last November, when they swept the men's singles, doubles, team and mixed doubles gold medals.
"I hope they keep their feet on the ground and work hard to reach the top of the podium," he added.
STTA's senior high performance manager Eddy Tay referred to Gao as the young players' "big brother", and backed him in his new role.
He said: "This has always been the pathway planned for Gao Ning since he started his dual role as player-assistant coach in 2017. He has been helping Liu Jiayi and learning from him, so it is an easy transition.
"We also want to thank Coach Liu for his contributions since he joined STTA in 2014 and his willingness to help Gao Ning smoothly transit into his new role."