SINGAPORE: The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) today (Oct 25) announced a new strategic plan that emphasises youth development for the four years leading to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Citing rejuvenation of the national team to be future-ready, the new STTA plan would see the immediate departure of women’s star player Feng Tianwei from the national set-up. Veteran men’s player Gao Ning has also been set on a coaching pathway, and will retire after the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
The STTA said in a statement that the strategy was developed in consultation with key stakeholders including Sport Singapore, the Singapore National Olympic Council, Singapore Sport School, coaches and players.
Change had been expected after the women’s team returned empty-handed from the Rio Olympics in August, despite having won medals in the past two editions. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Feng, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu won silver in the women’s team event, breaking Singapore’s 48-year medal drought at the Olympics.
Table tennis also delivered two bronze medals at the 2012 London Games, via the women’s team and Feng in singles competition.
Feng was also instrumental in Singapore’s table tennis high point in 2010, when with Wang and Sun Beibei, the Republic toppled China 3-1 to win the World Team Championships.
Singapore won silver and bronze in the subsequent editions in 2012 and 2014, but failed to make the semi-finals at the 2016 World Championships in Kuala Lumpur early this year.
Noting that Feng will turn 34 years old by the Tokyo Games, the STTA said she does not fit into their current plans for rejuvenation.
“Feng Tianwei has been a cornerstone of the national team since 2007. She has brought many golden moments to the sport. We would like to thank her for all that she has done for Singapore table tennis, and we would like to take this opportunity to wish Tianwei all the best in her future endeavours,” said STTA president Ellen Lee.
The STTA has elected to groom Zhou Yihan, Lin Ye and Zeng Jian, all in their early 20s, for the next two Olympics cycles, with the immediate task to improve their world rankings in the next four years.
Another leading player, 27-year-old Yu Mengyu, is current out injured, with the STTA saying they will monitor her rehabilitation closely.
On the men’s side, 34-year-old Gao Ning takes on a new role as men’s assistant coach, understudying current national men’s coach Liu Jiayi. Gao will mentor and train the next generation of players from the national team and intermediate squad but will continue playing through to the 2018 Asian Games.
Said Gao in the statement: “This is a great opportunity which has been given to me by the STTA. I have always wanted to contribute back as a coach after my playing days are over. I am happy that I am given a chance, and will work hard and learn as much as I can from Coach Liu."
“It is my hope to help as many young Singaporean players fulfil their potential and win medals for Singapore.”
The new strategic plan has immediately opened up opportunities for local-born players, with Clarence Chew tapped for the leading role for the men’s team. The 20-year-old Singapore Sports School student is currently enrolled in the Diploma in Sports and Leisure Management programme, and is tasked with qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Said Chew: “I’m deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be able to train and study full-time, and I will dedicate myself to doing my best and making our nation proud.
“It is any athlete’s dream to represent the country at the Olympics. I will continue to train hard and work towards my goal of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and would love to have Singaporeans stand by us as we take the next step forward.”
Apart from Chew, the STTA said they will work on developing 22-year-old Chen Feng, who proved his worth by qualifying for the men’s singles competition at the Rio Olympics.
Lee said it was timely after the Rio Games to develop, rejuvenate and refresh Singapore’s national teams to be future ready, with a greater emphasis placed on developing the youth players.
STTA will also promote more local talents into the Intermediate Squad, which is a feeder for the National Team, saying they have narrowed down several high potential youth players that will be given more support and resources.
They will also launch a bursary scheme next year for players in their youth development programmes who come from needy families, providing subsidy for monthly training fees and cost of overseas training and competition.
Citing the Singapore Sport School’s “school within school programme” as a good pipeline for the intermediate squad (IS) and national team, the STTA said that they will continue working with the school, Sport Singapore, the education fraternity, athletes and their parents to provide the best support for potential athletes to pursue sporting excellence.
“With competition becoming a lot keener, and with rivals like Japan catching up with Singapore, winning at the world stage has become a lot harder,” said Lee.
“With our strategy plans in place, we strongly believe that our younger generation of players will lead Singapore to greater sporting achievements, with the aim of scoring a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“We also hope to field a local-born talent at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We urge Singaporeans who have put their belief and trust in us to continue to support us.”