SINGAPORE - Clarence Chew has made history by becoming the first Singapore-born male table tennis player to qualify for the men's singles competition at the Olympics.
The 25-year-old beat compatriot Koen Pang, the SEA Games champion, in the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha on Saturday (March 20).
Chew had raced to a four-point lead in the first game and never looked back, eventually winning 4-0 (11-7, 11-7, 15-13, 11-4) in 35 minutes at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena.
He told The Straits Times after the final: "I still can't really believe it but I'm very happy to have qualified. This is a lifelong dream and I will continue to work hard so that I can put on a good performance at the Olympics and do Singapore proud.
"This is a historic moment for Singapore and I hope this achievement will inspire the younger generation to continue working hard and one day, it'll be their turn to represent Singapore."
Ellen Lee, Singapore Table Tennis Association president, said the achievement is an "extraordinary feat" and an inspiration to all.
"We are so proud of Clarence's achievement. We are so happy for Clarence and his family and all who have played a part in his journey... I hope this will spur many of the younger generation of players to dream big and achieve their dreams.''
National men's coach Gao Ning added: "Both athletes have worked so hard to be here and as a coach, it was the best feeling in the world to be able to see the results of this effort. This incredible accomplishment by Clarence is a dream come true for me. Now, (what) we need to do is to focus and continue this success into the Tokyo Olympics.''
The two Singaporeans had topped their respective groups in the South-east Asian contest at the tournament. Then, Chew and Pang, 18, won their semi-final matches on Friday4-1 and 4-0 respectively to set up an all-Singaporean final, guaranteeing a spot for the Republic in Tokyo.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong congratulated the pair in a Facebook post on Saturday morning, ahead of the final.
He wrote: "Both Koen and Clarence have shown tremendous improvement in the sport and this is truly a proud moment for Singapore. I wish you both the very best for the finals match, as you give it your all to clinch the Olympic spot. Go Team Singapore!"
The last male paddler to represent Singapore in the singles at a Summer Games was China-born Gao, who donned the Republic's colours at the 2016 edition in Rio. He was eliminated in the second round.
The Singapore women's team of Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye have already booked their spot at the July 23-Aug 8 Games. World No. 10 Feng and world No. 48 Yu will also contest the women's singles.