Table tennis: Olympian Chen Feng latest to leave STTA

Pang Xue Jie is set to train full-time with the national team upon completing his national service. With other senior players like Chen Feng and Li Hu leaving the fray, Pang and fellow men's singles player Clarence Chew will be counted on to lead Sin
Pang Xue Jie is set to train full-time with the national team upon completing his national service. With other senior players like Chen Feng and Li Hu leaving the fray, Pang and fellow men's singles player Clarence Chew will be counted on to lead Singapore's youth players.LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

He wants to spend more time with family, association says locals will now hold the fort

The already depleted national men's table tennis team suffered another blow yesterday, after Chen Feng became the latest player to call it quits.

The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) announced his departure in a press release last night, stating that the 22-year-old is retiring to spend more time with his mother, who is in poor health.

In the statement, the Hebei native said: "It has been many years since I got to spend quality time with my family.

"During my recent visit to my parents' house, I realised that my parents are no longer young and energetic. They mean a lot to me and I realise that I can no longer take them for granted."

Chen's decision comes on the back of several high-profile departures from the STTA fold in the last few months.

The association axed women's world No. 4 Feng Tianwei, 30, from the national team last October, the same month it sacked men's player Li Hu, 31, for disciplinary reasons. Veteran Yang Zi, 32, then announced his retirement last month.

World No. 50 Gao Ning, 34, is expected to retire after next year's Asian Games.

The exits - impending or otherwise - of the 30-somethings would have made Chen the men's team's highest-ranked and most experienced player.

He was part of the team that took gold at the last two SEA Games. He also won the singles title at the 2015 Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships.

He earned a place at last year's Olympic Games after upsetting team-mates Li and Gao, respectively ranked 98 and 122 rungs higher then, during the Asian qualifiers.

Chen has been conspicuously absent from the competitive circuit since his first-round exit at the Rio Olympics. Ranked world No. 117 in December, he is now unranked, having gone without competition for more than four months.

There had been talk since the end of last year that the paddler, who attained Singapore citizenship in 2013, was leaving the national set-up.

According to the STTA's statement yesterday, he tendered his resignation on Thursday.

In the statement, the association's president Ellen Lee said: "It is regrettable that Chen Feng has to leave us. While it is very unfortunate that he had to retire because of his family commitments, we understand his responsibility to his family."

The STTA is now looking to its local-born players to lead the men's team.

Clarence Chew, ranked No. 212, is the next highest-ranked player in the set-up after Gao.

Pang Xue Jie, a seasoned member of the team, has also committed to full-time training upon the completion of his national service.

The 24-year-old is now unranked, but posted a momentous win at the World Championships last year, when the then-world No. 334 stunned Japan's former world junior champion Koki Niwa (then world No. 14).

Said Eddy Tay, STTA's senior high performance manager: "It's time for the two of them (Chew and Pang) to lead the team. We will set realistic KPIs (key performance indicators) for the team. Our message is to develop local youth development, (and) Xue Jie and Clarence will be role models for the youth players."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'Olympian Chen Feng latest to leave stta'. Print Edition | Subscribe