Singapore's bid to repeat its six-gold showing in table tennis at the upcoming SEA Games is under a cloud. This, after the national team lost another senior player in Yang Zi, who announced his retirement yesterday.
The 32-year-old multiple medallist had been suffering from a degeneration of the cervical spine.
At the 2015 SEA Games hosted in Singapore, Yang won two gold medals - one in the men's team and the other, partnering Yu Mengyu, in the mixed doubles.
The Beijing-born Yang, who became a Singapore citizen in 2005, achieved a career-high singles world ranking of No. 21 in 2008.
He won three golds and one silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, and represented Singapore at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
He partnered Gao Ning at the 2012 Asian Championships to win Singapore's first title at the tournament since 1954.
At the SEA Games, his overall haul comprises 11 golds, three silvers and two bronzes.
Yang's decision to hang up his bat means he is the third high-profile player to exit the Singapore Table Tennis Association's fold in the last four months.
In October, it sacked 28-year-old Li Hu, the then-world No. 58 and former world junior singles champion, over a disciplinary issue. That same month, STTA announced plans to overhaul the national squad, omitting three-time Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei, saying that the 30-year-old did not fit into its "current plans for rejuvenation".
The Republic's top men's player, world No. 47 Gao Ning, is in the twilight of his career and the 34-year-old player/assistant coach is expected to retire after the 2018 Asian Games.
However, the STTA remained optimistic of its SEA Games chances in Kuala Lumpur in August, believing that Gao, together with Clarence Chew, can "lead the team and perform well at the upcoming SEA Games".
World No. 215 Chew had partnered 484th-ranked Ethan Poh to win gold in the men's doubles event at last month's South-east Asian (SEA) Championships in Indonesia. Poh, who is in the STTA's intermediate squad, also bagged a men's singles silver medal at the SEA Championships.
In an e-mail reply to The Straits Times' queries, the STTA named 17-year-old Poh as one of the athletes in the intermediate squad who "has shown potential to progress to the national team".
"We have five athletes from the intermediate squad training with the national men's team," added the STTA," referring to the likes of Edric Lim, 19, Maxxe Tay, 18, Darren Loy, 18, and Lucas Tan, 17.
"These athletes have done well in previous SEA Junior Championships and junior competitions. With an intensive training and competition programme, some of these athletes should be able to progress to the national team within the next two years."
On his retirement, Yang said in a statement: "While I'm disappointed that my table tennis career has come to an end, I am excited about what lies ahead. I have recently completed the International Table Tennis Federation coaching course and I will be joining my parents' table tennis academy to help Singapore to groom more young talents.
"Finally, I am also extremely grateful to the STTA, Sport Singapore and Singapore National Olympic Council for giving me this opportunity and I wish the Singapore team every success for the year ahead."