Former national table tennis player Feng Tianwei has broken her silence, addressing allegations against her that made their rounds - and the news - days after the world No. 6 was suddenly given the boot by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).
In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times yesterday, the 30-year-old spoke emotionally of how the ordeal of the past few days dealt her one of the harshest blows of her career.
But when she did break down - twice - it was not for feeling let down by those closest to her since the Harbin native came to Singapore in 2007. Instead, it was the support she got in defeat from strangers that brought tears to her eyes and gave her the strength to soldier on.
The warm reception the national women's team received upon their return from the Rio Olympics in August, in particular, has been a source of comfort. The team failed to win a medal for the first time in three Games.
"Many people told me (then) that I've inspired them," said Feng, recalling the hundreds who showed up at the airport. "But it was their actions that have encouraged me instead. That scene (at the airport) was such affirmation for me.
"It showed me that people saw the fight that we put up for the country. So I thought to myself, 'I can't just give up like that'."
So while she is hurting, the three-time Olympic medallist is not quitting.
She added: "This cannot be the reason that I stop playing. My status as a Singaporean is something that I have to treasure."
News that Feng, who led Singapore to a historic world team title in 2010, had been dropped by the STTA shocked the fraternity and fans, but also the paddler, who received news after word had already got around. She said the association first informed her of its decision in a meeting at 5pm on Tuesday.
She said: "I was really taken aback because it wasn't something I had considered before."
In a revamp of its high-performance strategies, the STTA announced that day that Feng "does not fit into the STTA's current plans for rejuvenation". It cited its ambition for "youth development" in its push for Tokyo 2020 as one of the reasons to refresh the team.
"I haven't come out to say anything yet because I also needed some time to come to terms with it," she said.
She refuted several allegations that have been published by some media outlets, noting that she has received legal advice regarding the reports and is seeking clarification and an apology.
One of the allegations against her was that she showed a lack of respect towards those in leadership positions in the STTA.
She said: "All along, my hope is to partner the STTA and have open discussions. Even when we disagreed, I only hoped to negotiate."
Feng, who met ST at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday, admitted that her relationship with the STTA had been testy over the past year, but she never considered parting ways.
It is understood that things with former women's team head coach Jing Junhong reached a nadir at the Polish Open in November last year, following which Jing was redeployed and replaced by Liu Jiayi. Liu was later succeeded by Chen Zhibin.
Feng said: "I never thought that things couldn't be salvaged. That would mean I wanted to cut off all ties with the STTA."
But even for a paddler who has won big matches under pressure, the off-court tensions over an extended period of time eventually got to her, including in Rio.
"It felt like there was this invisible cloud hanging over me," she said. "It became such that I was not simply playing table tennis. In the past, whether I won or I lost, I was happy. Deep inside my heart, I was happy just to play."
Feng said she is here to stay, and will continue to play for Singapore.
She said: "I won't be brought down because of this. There are some things that you experience only through adversity, a kind of hope for survival. I saw hope in my most hopeless moment."