Table tennis: S'pore paddlers battle pain in search of golden remedy at KL Games

The Singapore table tennis team at a press conference held at the STTA Lee Kong Chian training hall yesterday. They won six of seven golds at the 2015 SEA Games and will hope for a sweep in Kuala Lumpur this month.
The Singapore table tennis team at a press conference held at the STTA Lee Kong Chian training hall yesterday. They won six of seven golds at the 2015 SEA Games and will hope for a sweep in Kuala Lumpur this month.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

With a long list of injuries, they resemble the walking wounded but pain is not going to stop Singapore's table tennis players from their chase for gold at this month's SEA Games.

Several of the Republic's 10-member squad - Yu Mengyu (shoulder), Zhou Yihan (back), Clarence Chew (wrist) - are less than 100 per cent fit yet have opted not to withdraw from the Aug 19-30 Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The 27-year-old Yu experiences recurring pain in her right shoulder after surgery to remove scar tissue from wear and tear.

She said: "I don't feel much pressure, maybe because I am still recovering from injury. My state of mind is much more positive than before.

"I had been training intensively and the injury flared up several times but I had adjusted the way I train to cope. So the SEA Games will not be a problem."

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee praised her players in yesterday's press conference at their headquarters in Toa Payoh.

She said: "Every one of them knows they have a part to play in this special competition.

"This is where we are competing against South-east Asian countries and we are known to be the best.

"Therefore, we have to live up to the reputation as well even as we take in the fact that our neighbours are also improving."

The Republic hosted the 2015 Games and won six of the seven golds on offer but lost the women's singles title - which Singapore had won from 1995 to 2013 - after Feng Tianwei and Isabelle Li failed to qualify for the semi-finals.

Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut won gold.

Yu, who will compete in the singles, doubles (with Feng) and team event, said: "The gold medal we lost has always been a motivation for us. We are confident of bringing the gold back."

Lin Ye and Yee Herng Hwee complete the women's team while Chew is joined by Gao Ning, Pang Xuejie and debutants Ethan Poh and Lucas Tan in the men's team.

The squad have been undergoing centralised training for the past month with twice-daily sessions from 9am to 12.30pm and 4.30pm to 7.30pm.

Sparring partners from Europe and Chinese Taipei had been brought in to simulate the different playing styles they may face in Malaysia.

They include Kou Lei, the men's world No. 28 from Ukraine, and 18-year-old Ho Tin-Tin, the British paddler who plays with long pimples, which changes the spin of the ball.

The men's team are a much-changed side after losing three key players in the past year.

Li Hu left owing to disciplinary problems, Chen Feng returned to China to be with his elderly parents, while veteran Yang Zi, 33, retired.

But Gao, who turns 35 in October, is raring to go in his final Games. He will retire after next year's Asian Games in Indonesia.

The veteran, with four singles gold medals (2007, 2009, 2011 and 2015) said: "Both the junior and senior players have shown that their techniques are sound.

"I had not thought of how special my last SEA Games will be, maybe because I had played in so many tournaments.

"All sportsmen will need to face the end (of competitive careers). For myself, I am just focused on my training and analysing how my opponents will play with the hope that I will perform well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore paddlers battle pain in search of golden remedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe