Singapore table tennis women line up Olympic mission
Coach Jing says goal is for women to medal for the third successive Olympics in Rio 2016
In 2008, Singapore's women paddlers bagged a historic silver in the team event at the Beijing Olympics.
In 2012, they came home with two bronze medals from the London Games in the team event and in the women's singles, through Feng Tianwei.
If the Republic hopes to medal for the third successive Olympic Games next year in Rio, then the serious work begins now, said national women's head coach Jing Junhong.
Starting next month, Singapore's top-four women - Feng, Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan - will be busy trying to chalk up as many points as possible through the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour as they look ahead to the 2016 Olympics.
The first stop on the tour will be the GAC Group 2015 ITTF World Tour, China Open on Aug 5, and the final one will be in Hong Kong next April.
The top 22 in the ITTF world rankings qualify for the Olympics, along with 10 from the Hong Kong event, which serves as an Asian Olympic qualifier.
Jing believes the World Tour is especially important for the younger players, Lin, 19 and 21-year-old Zhou, to try and be among the top three in Singapore for Rio.
"The World Tour events are very important to gain form and get as many points as possible for a higher seeding," she told The New Paper, at the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) Gala Dinner last night.
"Lin Ye has not qualified for the Olympics so, for her, the World Tour is a good opportunity to get ready for the Hong Kong qualifier.
"We have confidence in our players and we want to medal (in Rio).
"So, for the Olympics, we must start (preparation) now."
Lin and Zhou sparkled as a doubles pair last month when they reached the final of the Japan Open, overshadowing Singapore's No. 1 women's pairing of Feng and Yu.
FIGHT FOR PLACES
Ranked 28th in the world, the pair also clinched gold at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
With Singapore set to send their best three to Rio, however, it is unlikely that Lin and Zhou will pair up in the Olympics, seeing that they are ranked third and fourth locally.
Feng is world No. 6, with Yu 25th, Lin 56th and Zhou 65th.
"Everyone will have to fight for her place,"said Jing.
Jing, 46, who finished fourth in the women's singles at the 2000 Sydney Games, was also optimistic about Feng returning to her best form during the World Tour.
After her shock early exit during the SEA Games women's singles, Feng once again fell at the first hurdle of the Japan Open when she was upset by Japan's world No. 43 Misako Wakamiya.
Jing attributed Feng's loss to a long-standing knee injury.
"I'm not sure how many per cent fit she is now, but she just came back from a month's break, so she should be better," said the former Singapore star.
"It's very tough to say whether Feng and the team can medal at the Olympics, because the other countries are strong now.
"Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are all on the same level with us at the moment."
At the dinner last night at Marina Mandarin, the STTA announced that they had raised over $440,000 through donations from various private corporations and individuals.
The dinner, which was graced by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, was also to celebrate the sport's achievement at the 28th SEA Games, where the paddlers won six golds, one silver and three bronzes.
STTA president Ellen Lee, MP for Sembawang (Woodlands) GRC, said: "I would like to thank all the donors for the very generous support of STTA. These funds will help the STTA to nurture the next generation of sporting champions.
"In addition, our fund raising efforts will provide support to our young athletes and offer them platforms and opportunities where they can pursue their dreams and fulfil their aspirations".