KLANG, MALAYSIA - Singapore's table tennis boys' team successfully defended the Asean Schools Games (ASG) gold won on home soil last year in dramatic fashion on Sunday (July 22), beating Thailand 3-2 in the final.
Josh Chua celebrated his 17th birthday in style at the SJK (C) Kong Hoe school premises in Klang, defeating Thailand's Supakron Pankhaoyoy in the rubber tie 11-9, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6 after Singapore had initially let a 2-0 lead slip.
The Year 5 Raffles Institution student seemed to radiate calm in a roller-coaster battle with the Thais, but a moment deep into the final set when he thrust his palms downward in the widely recognised "keep-cool" gesture gave insight into how much effort it took to remain that way.
"I just kept telling myself not to think too much and not be too bothered with the result whether win or lose," said Josh, a veteran of four ASGs.
"I've gotten used to celebrating my birthday during ASG since Secondary 1 but this is the first time I've won a gold on my actual day itself."
In a tactical move, the Thais had changed their usual order of play for the final, choosing to deploy their No. 2 singles player Supakron in the first match against Singapore's No. 1 singles player Koen Pang, and their No. 1 Yanapong Panagitgun against Josh in the second.
Koen, 16, beat Supakron 11-7, 11-5, 11-9 in the opener but the Thais' gamble then backfired with Josh defeating Yanapong 14-12, 11-9, 7-11, 11-7 as Yanapong's frustration at Josh's patient approach got the better of him.
"We know each other's play style quite well and in fact we just played twice at the SEA Junior & Cadet Table Tennis earlier this month, so my plan was to not allow him to attack first," said Josh.
The boys looked well on the way to delivering Singapore's first gold at the 10th ASG, but Dominic Koh lost 9-11, 4-11, 9-11 to Tananan Tantakool in the third match, before under-18 world No. 14 Yanapong beat Koen in a tight affair 6-11, 11-6, 12-10, 9-11, 11-7 to set up the decider.
The girls' team clinched silver, putting up a good fight led by 13-year-old Zhou Jingyi but were outclassed 3-0 in the final by Vietnam.
And as things turned out, the boys' table tennis team were beaten to Singapore's first gold at the Games by Youth Olympics Games-bound high jumper Kampton Kam, whose 2.10m jump broke both the national schools (2.06m) and U-20 (2.08m) records.
Swimmer Mikkel Lee, who won four golds and a silver at the last ASG, picked up his first gold of the Games as well in the 100m free, clocking 50.72sec.
The girls' artistic gymnastics team also struck gold, matching their result at last year's Games.
After the second day of competition, Singapore's medal tally stands at four golds, three silvers and five bronzes.