SINGAPORE -With less than six months before the Olympic Games in Rio, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) has announced changes to the coaching set-up for the men's and women's national squads.
Former head coach of the Netherlands women's team Chen Zhibin will take charge of the Republic's women's team while Liu Jiayi, who had been handling the women's team, will now oversee the men's side.
Jing Junhong, who had been women's team head coach since 2012, was removed from her position in November and redeployed to take charge of youth development following an internal fallout with the players. She was replaced by Liu, who had been her deputy.
Chen, a 54-year-old German Chinese, had been with the Dutch team from 2009 to 2012 and guided them to three consecutive titles at the European Table Tennis Championships.
In 2012, they finished in the top six of the World Team Table Tennis Championships and were in the top eight at the London Olympics that same year.
Chen was a former world No. 5 and represented China from 1983 to 1990. He won a men's doubles gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games and was also part of the Chinese team that finished runner-up at the World Team Cup in the same year.
He said: "It is a privilege to have been selected by the STTA and Singapore Sports Institute to lead the Singapore women's team to the Rio Olympics.
"The Olympics is only six months away and my immediate task is to raise the level of play and the world ranking of the players. The players and I will do our utmost best to bring greater sporting glory to Singapore."
He will be assisted by Hao Anlin.
World No. 5 Feng Tianwei believed that Chen "will take our women's team to greater heights. She added: "Coach Chen has the coaching experience to take my playing career to the next level of success.
"Coach Chen and I also aim to achieve medals at the Rio Olympics and we wish to see the Singapore flag fly high at the upcoming Rio Olympics."
Noted STTA president Ellen Lee: "We had to make some coaching changes in the run up to the Rio Olympics. Along with our many stakeholders, STTA have already invested so much in our teams and we would like our players to do their best to improve their Olympics chances.
"We urge Singaporeans who have put their belief and trust in us to continue to support us.
"Right now, the teams need to focus on training harder than before towards the Rio Olympics. Now that the issue of coaching support has been firmly resolved, the national players should continue with their high level training and execute the competition calendar, as scheduled."
Meanwhile, Liu, who will be supported by deputy coaches Wang Xiang and Zhu Jiang, was looking forward to his new role with the men's team.
He said: "I am looking forward to my new appointment. What I want to do is improve every single practice, every single day, every single week for the men's team right up to Rio.
"We want to play our best for Singapore at the upcoming Rio Olympics 2016."
Noted veteran player and world No. 15 Gao Ning: "Coach Liu has a positive attitude and mind set and I am sure that he will have a lot to offer to the men's Team. I look forward to working closely with him."