For three years, Ethan Poh stood on the sidelines to cheer on his team-mates in the South-east Asia Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships after suffering early exits. But this year, the national paddler walked away from the Toa Payoh Sports Hall a champion.
The 18-year-old said: "This is redemption for me. I've grown in maturity in the way I think and when times got tough, I kept pushing on.
"Even though I was quite sad at that time (after losing in the previous editions), I just trained harder. Since this will be my last year in this tournament, I just wanted to play my best without any regrets."
Ethan won the Junior (Under-18) boys' singles after staging a comeback to beat team-mate Lucas Tan 11-9, 7-11, 8-11, 12-10, 17-15, 11-6. The first-year Ngee Ann Polytechnic student had trailed 1-2 before winning three games in a row.
He added: "In the first few games, I was very nervous because this was my first final in this competition. I had to change my tactics because he kept chasing me down.
"I slowed down my play and started to think through everything. I was more daring."
Lucas, also 18, said: "He made fewer mistakes towards the end of the game. He waited for me to be far away from the table and reacted faster than me."
The hosts took home a total of eight gold medals out of the 13 titles at stake. In yesterday's events, Singapore were winners in the Cadet (U-15) boys' singles as Koen Pang beat Thailand's Chanpen Chetthanabodi 9-11, 11-4, 11-13, 11-5, 11-6, 11-5, while Nicole Lew won the Junior girls' singles after beating team-mate Eunice Lim 11-7, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-6, 11-5.
In the team events, Ethan and Wong Xin Ru won the junior mixed doubles while Tan En Hui and Zhang Wan Ling won the junior girls' doubles.
Held across four days, the 23rd edition of the annual tournament featured competitors from seven other Asean countries - Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
The winners and runners-up in each of the junior boys' and junior girls' team events will qualify for the Asian Junior Championships to be held in Ansan, South Korea from June 29 to July 4.