Paddlers confident of doing well at Olympic qualifiers
National paddlers believe there will be no repeat of SEA Games surprise in regional Olympic qualifiers
The Singapore women's table tennis team lost their 18-year winning streak in singles competition at the South-east Asia Games on home ground last year.
In a stunning turn of events, Thai paddler Suthasini Sawettabut beat Malaysia's Ng Sock Khim in the final to win gold.
Despite that shock, senior national paddlers Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu believe that the South-east Asian Olympic spot at the qualifiers in Hong Kong next week is Singapore's to lose.
Similarly, Gao Ning is bullish about his chances in the men's competition at the qualifiers, despite injuring his ankle at the World Championships in Malaysia last month.
Speaking to The New Paper, women's world No. 7 Feng (right) said: "I think the competition within our team is more intense, so I will go all out (in the SEA qualifiers)."
Yu, ranked 23rd in the world, added: "The competition among our teammates will be the biggest challenge (in the first stage), but I will be taking each match as it comes."
Men's world No. 27 Gao Ning insisted his recovery from injury is "not bad", and revealed he returned to training three weeks ago.
The 2015 SEA Games men's singles champion said: "I am well-prepared for the qualifiers and I'm full of confidence (that I'll earn an Olympic spot)."
The Republic will send Feng, Yu, Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan for the women's competition, while Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Li Hu and Chen Feng will represent Singapore in the men's draw.
The continental qualifiers serve as the first opportunity for the paddlers to book their tickets for the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro from Aug 5 to 21.
The tournament is split into two segments - the first portion will comprise competitions for the five sub-Asian regions, where only the five champions will earn an Olympic spot each.
Countries will then send a maximum of two paddlers for the second stage of the tournament, where players from 44 Asian nations come together to fight for six men's and women's spots respectively.
While Feng and Yu had been struggling for form in the six months leading up to February's World Championships, both senior players - especially Feng - had much-improved performances in Kuala Lumpur, where the weakened women's team - who were missing Lin Ye and Zhou through eligibility rules - reached the quarter-finals.
Feng said: "Malaysia was a turning point for me, I hope to continue with this form."
The women's team are hard at work under coach Chen Zhibin, who took over earlier this year.
Said Chen: "In the lead-up to the qualifiers, Tianwei and Mengyu have been drilled every day in terms of their fitness and technique, especially their serves and how they receive serves.
"I also want to improve their stability in handling the first three rallies of each point.
"For Yihan and Lin Ye, their basic skills are good, although they need to polish up on the minor details.
"But they are young and relatively unaffected by injury, so they have been training more."
The former Holland coach is confident that his players will deliver an Olympic spot in Hong Kong.
He said: "The first stage offers us only one spot, and I feel a Singaporean will take it.
"If that happens, that we can send only one other player for the second stage."