SEA Games 2019

Golden end to stellar year

Left: Koen Pang enjoying the moment after beating fellow Singaporean Clarence Chew 4-0 in the men's singles final yesterday. Below: Singapore added a second table tennis gold through Lin Ye, after Feng Tianwei retired due to injury during the second
Koen Pang enjoying the moment after beating fellow Singaporean Clarence Chew 4-0 in the men's singles final yesterday. PHOTO: SNOC, LIANHE ZAOBAO
Left: Koen Pang enjoying the moment after beating fellow Singaporean Clarence Chew 4-0 in the men's singles final yesterday. Below: Singapore added a second table tennis gold through Lin Ye, after Feng Tianwei retired due to injury during the second
Singapore added a second table tennis gold through Lin Ye, after Feng Tianwei retired due to injury during the second game of the women's singles final. PHOTO: SNOC, LIANHE ZAOBAO

Koen, 17, wins first senior title as S'pore sweep table tennis singles gold medals

He had practised gymnastics until the age of 10. But even so, Koen Pang would not have known what a huge leap he would make in table tennis seven years on.

But there he stood, proudly atop the podium at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Centre yesterday, as Singapore's first local-born SEA Games men's singles champion. At 17, he is also the country's youngest winner in the event.

With stirring comebacks the order of the day, the world No. 203 fought from 3-0 down to beat Thailand's No. 192 Padasak Tanviriyavechakul 7-11, 10-12, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-3, 11-9 in the semi-final.

He carried that momentum into the final as he defeated compatriot and world No. 217 Clarence Chew 11-5, 11-7, 11-7, 12-10 for the gold.

It was also Koen's first win against his fellow southpaw teammate this year.

Chew, 23, had beaten Filipino Richard Gonzales 11-3, 11-8, 5-11, 11-4, 11-9 to book the final berth.

Koen told The Straits Times: "Against a fellow left-hander in the semi-final, my three-ball attacks were not as effective.

"I was too anxious to finish off the points in the first three games, but I was able to adjust and take things slower. Changing tactics, I was more prepared to play rallies and fight for every point.

"For the final, I usually don't beat Clarence. But, after the semi-final, I was more ready to play the rallies he usually plays, and I finally managed to beat him."

While Koen, a former Under-18 world No. 1, is due to enlist in national service next year, he hopes this year of breakthroughs - his doubles bronze at the world junior championships with Josh Chua this month was the Republic's first medal in the competition - will aid his fledgling career.

He added: "This is my first SEA Games, and to win the men's singles crown for my first senior title means a lot to me and gives me more confidence for future competitions."

It was also an all-Singapore affair in the women's singles final. Lin Ye claimed the gold after defending champion Feng Tianwei, who won the first game 11-6, retired due to an injury with the score tied at 1-1 in the second game.

Like Koen, world No. 9 Feng had also shown great tenacity to bounce back from 3-0 down and beat Thailand's world No. 150 Nanthana Komwong 7-11, 3-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-4, 11-4, 11-4 in the last four.

Feng said: "In addition to the recurrence of my wrist injury, I'm also battling fever and flu.

"But I tried my best... and just could not continue anymore."

World No. 63 Lin Ye, who was a late replacement for the injured Yu Mengyu, had earned her final spot after beating 2015 singles champion and Thai world No. 42 Suthasini Sawettabut 11-7, 6-11, 11-8, 2-11, 11-8, 11-5.

The 23-year-old said: "I'm very happy with my first singles gold at the SEA Games, even if it was because of Tianwei's retirement.

"The semi-final was a tough fight but I pulled through."

Feng and Yu's health will be of concern to the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), which is bidding to reclaim a women's team medal at next year's Tokyo Olympics after returning from the Rio Games empty-handed in 2016.

 

In the Philippines, where just four events were contested, Singapore's paddlers bagged two golds, three silvers and two bronzes - their lowest return since Jakarta 1997, when they won just one title.

STTA technical director Loy Soo Han said: "We are happy with Koen and Lin Ye's breakthrough gold medals, but they are young and still have plenty of room for improvement.

"Hopefully, their achievements will inspire the younger generation of paddlers to work hard and aim high."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2019, with the headline 'Golden end to stellar year'. Print Edition | Subscribe