'My heart is just full of gratitude to be here’: Yu Mengyu reflects on her Tokyo Olympics standout showing
SINGAPORE: Yu Mengyu is still none the wiser when it comes to her newly found popularity.
“Have I (become a household name?) I don’t think so. I didn’t really pay too much attention to what’s said online,” she told CNA in an interview on Saturday (Jul 31).
“What I know is that I’ve had a lot more followers on Instagram,” she added with a laugh.
“I’m very happy that more people can get to know me and understand me.”
The 31-year-old’s fourth-placed finish at the Tokyo Olympics women’s singles event has captured the hearts and minds of many.
But more importantly, it is her resolute fighting spirit against some of the world's top players that has truly resonated with a lot of people.
“I was very surprised (with the reaction) because since the competition started I never really paid much attention to what was in the media.
"But after that last match of the singles competition, a lot of people sent me messages - including some of my friends - and that’s when I went to look at Instagram and Facebook,” she said.
“Before that I wanted to distract myself and not think too much about the competition so I only watched make-up videos and movies online!”
NEVER GIVING UP
It is Thursday morning, Jul 29.
The Olympic Games table tennis women’s singles semi-finals at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
There is a collective hush in an already muted arena as Yu crumples to the ground.
The Singaporean - seeded 47th - is already three games down and now 1-4 down in the fourth against Chinese world number 1 - Chen Meng.
Things are not looking good.
Yet minutes later, Yu picks herself up gingerly from the floor. She reels off a number of points to draw level with her opponent.
But Chen would eventually pull away and win the match.
In the post-match interview after her defeat, Yu would reveal that she suffered a pulled thigh muscle. “It’s nothing,” she added.
Later that night, Yu steps up to the table again, and stretches Japan’s Mima Ito, who is ranked third in the world, in the bronze medal match, before eventually succumbing 4-1.
“When I had the injury, I did not give up. I wanted to work hard once again because of my dreams. This could help to encourage others and make a positive impact,” said Yu, reflecting on her singles performances.
Plagued by a host of injuries over the last few years, most notably to her shoulder and her waist, Yu came close to calling it quits previously.
“It was the support of my family that kept me going, and also the guidance and help of STTA (Singapore Table Tennis Association), that gave me the hope to go on,” she explained.
And heading into the Olympics, her goal was not to win but to be able to compete on the world's biggest sporting arena.
“When I arrived here, my mindset was very simple - to be able to compete at the Olympic Games was already a win,” she said.
“There was no pressure on me coming into these Games because of my injuries. I am already very grateful just to be able to compete at the Olympic Games.”
And with the pressure off, Yu soared.
In the quarter-finals, the Singaporean notched her biggest upset yet, beating Japan’s fifth seed Kasumi Ishikawa 4-1.
“(I felt this approach did) help. Instead of having other thoughts in my mind, I was more focused and could compete well in each match,” said Yu.
In the last edition of the Games in Rio, Yu had also made it to the quarterfinals, before being eliminated by North Korea’s Kim Song-I.
“In Rio, I wanted to battle with the team and try to win a medal to bring back home to Singapore. But maybe back then, there was a lot of pressure on us, and the performances were disappointing,” she said.
HER LAST OLYMPICS
Yu still has the women’s team event to compete at in the Olympics.
Singapore will face France in their opener on Monday, and if they win, a showdown with China awaits.
“All the teams that qualified for the Olympics are all of a very high standard, so we’ll take it game by game,” said Yu.
“So it’s best not to think about how to face the Chinese team, rather battle with the France team first.”
But Yu noted that this will be her final Olympic Games.
“I already made the decision (that this will be my last Olympics), I made the decision before the Games .... from other perspectives, I felt that I can still (battle on), but when I think about the injuries I have faced, it will be difficult for me to continue,” she said.
“The injuries could affect my movements during training as well as during the competition … and make life tough. It’s not a question of age.”
Hours after her loss to Ito in the women’s table tennis singles bronze medal match on Thursday, Yu shared a photograph of herself accompanied by a simple caption.
One of the lines in the caption read: “Life cannot be perfect for everything. A life with a little regret is real life.”
Yu’s regret, she says, is not winning a medal for Singapore in the singles. But she knows there is more to it than that.
“Which athlete comes to the Olympics and doesn’t want to win a medal? I feel everybody wants to,” she said.
“But given the problems that I faced (with my injuries), it was tough to get here. So being able to stand here, my heart is just full of gratitude.”
At the opening ceremony of the Games less than two weeks ago, Yu was one of the two flag bearers leading the Team Singapore contingent into the cavernous Tokyo National Stadium.
Beaming, waving and proud.
And she hasn’t stopped carrying the flag since.
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