SINGAPORE - After a stellar 2021 season that saw them winning a clutch of medals, youth paddlers Izaac Quek and Zhou Jingyi were rewarded with promotion to the national team earlier this month.
And the new year promises to be even better after they were on Wednesday (Jan 26) awarded the Moo Soon Chong Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year (Secondary) at the Singapore Sports School Awards Night.
National teammates Clarence Chew and Wong Xin Ru took home the same prize for post-secondary athletes as the paddlers swept the top honours at the annual awards.
Izaac, 15, was delighted to bag his second consecutive award after becoming the first Singaporean to top the Under-15 world rankings last April. He also won five medals across four World Table Tennis (WTT) Youth Contender events in Europe.
"These really motivated me because I didn't have much success (previously), except being the world No. 1 so they meant that I was heading in the right direction, said the Secondary 4 student, who is aiming to qualify for the Commonwealth and Asian Games and World Table Tennis Team Championships this year.
Teammate Jingyi also has a busy year ahead after making the step up to the national team. The 16-year-old, who was the youngest member of the team that retained Singapore's bronze medal at last year's Asian Table Tennis Championships, admitted that the transition has not been easy as she had to change her playing style, which resulted in her not being able to sustain rallies for as long as before.
Zhou, who is now a full-time player, said: "I told myself that it's a normal process... Things will pick up slowly again and it is getting better now, so it's a good change."
She will compete in three WTT Youth Contender events in Europe next month, where she hopes to win a medal or reach the finals, before she turns her attention to her medal target at the SEA Games.
She added: "More importantly, I hope to be able to get more exposure and see how adults and people better than me play so that I can learn from them and become a better player myself."
Wednesday's awards ceremony at the SSP's Woodlands campus also saw badminton player Jaslyn Hooi picking up the Annabel Pennefather Excellence accolade alongside fencer Cheung Kemei.
Hooi, 21, clinched the biggest title of her career last September, winning the women's singles at the Polish International.
She said: "Winning (the title) felt really good but thinking back, I'm also really happy about the progress that I've made because we're always focusing on something to improve on and when I won, I felt like what I've been doing is right and it motivates me to be better."
World No. 100 Hooi is aiming for an individual medal at the Hanoi SEA Games in May and hopes to break into the top 50 this year after seeing the success of teammates Loh Kean Yew and Yeo Jia Min.
She said: "We do the same training so when they succeed, I look back at what they've done differently so that I can learn from them. What inspires me is their commitment, dedication and effort put into training.
"That makes me believe that Singapore badminton can make it to the world stage generation after generation and I hope more players can be like them."