SEA Games: 'A lesson in humility', says STTA chief Lee as Singapore bow out with just 2 golds

Clarence Chew fell 4-1 to home hope Nguyen Duc Tuan at the Hai Duong Gymnasium in front of a fervent Vietnamese crowd. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI - Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee has vowed that the SEA Games squad, who won just two of the seven ping-pong golds on offer in Hanoi, will “learn to make things better”.

The two golds, three silvers and four bronzes garnered in Vietnam is a marginal improvement over their 2019 haul of 2-3-2 although only five events were staged in the Philippines. 

Still, there were major disappointments, such as the end of the women’s team’s proud nine-Games winning streak and the loss of the men and women’s singles titles yesterday.

Singapore’s winning streak in the men’s singles, which started in 2007, ended after Olympian and world No. 126 Clarence Chew fell 4-1 (11-9, 11-7, 10-12, 11-4, 11-8) in the semi-finals to unranked Vietnamese Nguyen Duc Tuan in front of a fervent home crowd at the Hai Duong Gymnasium. 

In the women’s singles, debutante Zeng Jian, ranked 55th in the world, also settled for the joint bronze after her 4-3 (11-8, 11-13, 6-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-2, 11-7) semi-final loss to Thai world No. 113 Orawan Paranang. 

The Republic had been defending the title won by Lin Ye, who had to pull out of the team at the 11th hour following an injury, in 2019.

Lee defended her players, noting that this was a young group aged 17 to 26, and said: “For them to have played to this level, I am quite happy that we’re on the right path to grooming them for bigger Games to come. 

“Even though their opponents were much older and more experienced, you could see that fearless spirit and attitude.

“This is quite a good haul by any other standards. There are a lot more things we can do better given more time and practice but till the next SEA Games, this is something to remind them of how they can better themselves.” 

Chew and Ethan Poh clinched the men's doubles gold in their third SEA Games together but Chew and Zeng had to settle for silver in the mixed doubles behind compatriots Koen Pang and Wong Xin Ru.

Chew, the 2017 and 2019 silver medallist, admitted he had been below par. The 26-year-old is nursing a shoulder and arm injury but said: “I knew it was going to be a tough match and of course I’m disappointed by the result. But I tried my best today and the opponent played a better game.

“Even though I won the men’s doubles, in the other events (mixed doubles, team and singles) my performance was not up to my standard. There’s a lot I have to work on.”

He also revealed that he had struggled with the Games’ intense scheduling, adding: “I want to improve physically and work on injury prevention, which are very important especially during these Games, where there have been quite a few back-to-back matches each day.” 

Zeng, 25, who won three silvers and a bronze, added that while the her results were not entirely satisfactory, she still gained valuable experience. 

Chew and Lee also noted that their regional rivals have improved and that the team faced challenges related to the pandemic and national service, with most of the men’s team either serving or having just completed NS. 

Chew, who has participated in every SEA Games since 2013, said: “Each time, it gets harder. There are many opponents getting stronger and the younger ones especially, their playing style is more aggressive compared to mine so that’s something I have to work on.” 

Lee added: “(The other athletes) are mostly veterans and I’m seeing that the level of play has gone up a lot.

“Now it’s for our athletes to learn from their mistakes and see how they can improve and I believe they will do so. 

“It’s a lesson in humility. We can’t always win but we can always learn to make things better.”

The team will now take a short break before gearing up for the Commonwealth Games in July, where they will defend three gold medals in Birmingham.


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