STTA chief eyes perfect seven on Gold Coast

The men's and women's table tennis teams that will represent Singapore at the Commonwealth Games next month, together with their coaches and STTA president Ellen Lee.
The men's and women's table tennis teams that will represent Singapore at the Commonwealth Games next month, together with their coaches and STTA president Ellen Lee.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

New-look, young team target unprecedented sweep of golds at the Commonwealth Games

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee has challenged the paddlers to win all seven Commonwealth Games golds in Australia next month - a feat never accomplished since the sport was introduced in 2002.

The Republic tops the table tennis tally with 18 golds from four editions and came close to completing sweeps at the 2010 New Delhi Games and in Glasgow four years ago, when they won six titles.

Although the latest squad heading to the Gold Coast is skewed towards youth, Lee remains optimistic about a record haul.

"We told them (the players) that we want them to win every gold out there that is for the taking," she said at the 10-strong team's unveiling at the STTA's Toa Payoh headquarters yesterday.

The women's team comprise Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Zhou Yihan, Lin Ye and Zhang Wanling. Feng, Yu, Zhou and Lin competed in 2014 alongside the now-retired Isabelle Li.

But it is the men's team of Gao Ning, Pang Xue Jie, Ethan Poh, Koen Pang and Beh Kun Ting that will feature more fresh faces.

Clarence Chew, the SEA Games men's singles silver medallist, did not make selections owing to national service commitments.

PLANNING AHEAD

We are placing greater emphasis on the development of youth players to be future-ready... We hope this will also begin the process of change that will eventually see more of our younger generation of players on the world stage.

ELLEN LEE, Singapore Table Tennis Association president, on the importance of developing talented young players.

UNFAZED BY THE BIG STAGE

I am very excited about playing in my first major Games... I want to do Singapore proud and to stand on the podium.

KOEN PANG, Singapore Sports School paddler, on making his major Games debut.

Gao, 35, is the only one who competed in 2014 while Pang, 25, played in 2010. Koen, 15, Kun Ting, 16, and Zhang, 18, will make their major Games debuts in Australia while Poh, 19, will make his Commonwealth Games debut, having played in the SEA Games last year.

Lee said: "We are placing greater emphasis on the development of youth players to be future-ready... We hope this will also begin the process of change that will eventually see more of our younger generation of players on the world stage.

"The STTA will constantly challenge ourselves and to raise the bar."

Singapore Sports School student Koen said: "I am very excited about playing in my first major Games. My target is to get a medal for Singapore. I want to do Singapore proud and to stand on the podium."

Men's national coach Liu Jiayi was cautiously optimistic about their medal chances, and acknowledged that the men's team and singles events may be "challenging".

He said: "We have more younger players now... so, for the team event, we have to work hard since Gao Ning is the only one (with loads of experience) left, and we'd have to decide how to field him in this event."

Liu pointed out that Gao, the Republic's top male paddler, may have a tough time in the singles, with the likes of Nigeria's Quadri Aruna (world No. 22), England's Paul Drinkhall (No. 46) and India's Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (No. 49) capable of posing problems for the No. 33.

England swept all the medals in the mixed doubles four years ago, and the Singapore team are keeping their cards close to their chest on their pairings for the Games.

Yu, 28, is confident that the women have what it takes to do well at the April 4-15 Games.

She said: "We have grown a lot and gained a lot of experience, compared to four years ago, so I have a lot of confidence in our team.

"In terms of the abilities of the members of this team, we are better than the other countries at the Games, so I hope we all will work hard to get the gold medals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'STTA chief eyes perfect seven on Gold Coast'. Print Edition | Subscribe