Paddlers vow to reclaim medal in 2020
Returning paddlers pledge to improve and reclaim a medal at Tokyo 2020
Beaten but not broken, the national women's paddlers pledged to bounce back from their barren run at Rio 2016 and reclaim at least one medal at Tokyo 2020.
The team of Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan were beaten 3-1 by Japan in the women's team bronze-medal play-off, while Feng and Yu were eliminated in the women's singles quarter-finals to end a fine run of three medals won at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
However, Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee remained optimistic that they can recover at the first time of asking in four years.
She said: "I'm still hoping to regain the Olympic medal. By then, these players would have come of age and would have amassed enough experience for them to qualify and do well at the Olympics.
"The preparations towards Tokyo 2020 have already started a few years back, by training and giving exposure to the younger players.
"Hopefully, by then, they would have reached a high standard of play and do well in Tokyo 2020 and beyond, and we will have a seamless transition and succession plan."
Lee did not confirm whether Chen Zhibin (women's team) and Liu Jiayi (men's team), who were appointed only six months before these Games, will continue as head coaches.
"We will conduct a review of the performances of our players and coaches before deciding our next course of action," she said.
She did note the encouraging performances of debutantes Yu, who contributed the only point against Japan, and Zhou, who beat South Korea's Seo Hyo Won 3-0 to get Singapore back on level terms before the 3-2 team win, and was the only singles player to take a set off China's Ding Ning in the women's team semi-finals.
Should they qualify for Tokyo 2020, there will also be a bigger pool of at least five relatively more experienced players from which to choose the three-woman team.
World No. 4 Feng and world No. 13 Yu will be 33 and 31 respectively, and should still be a force to be reckoned with.
World No. 32 Zhou will be 26 and there is also world No. 62 Lin Ye, two years younger and a reserve at Rio.
The duo had underlined their potential by shocking China's Liu Shiwen and Ding 3-0 at last year's Japan Open women's doubles semi-finals.
Then there is world No. 27 Zeng Jian, a 20-year-old who has been in Singapore for two years as a sparring partner. The China-born paddler could also be naturalised if she fits the STTA's plans.
The mixed doubles event will be introduced at Tokyo 2020, which provides Singapore another opportunity and pathway to win an Olympic medal.
Feng, who is Singapore's most bemedalled Olympian, said: "This represents a new target and opportunity for us, so we may want to try to achieve a breakthrough for this event."
The owner of one Olympic silver and two bronze medals revealed she had felt guilty and sorry for losing both her matches against Japan, but was heartened by the rousing reception of 200 supporters who welcomed the paddlers home at Changi Airport Terminal 1 yesterday afternoon.
"It is not easy to overcome such emotions," said Feng, who will undergo knee injections to manage an old injury before making a charge at the Women's World Cup in Philadelphia from Oct 7-9.
"But, seeing how the fans still came to welcome us despite us not winning a medal, I'm really appreciative, inspired and motivated to bounce back stronger and reclaim a medal at Tokyo 2020.
"I want to bring more honour and glory to Singapore sports within these four years and I feel there is still quite a lot of room for me to improve.
"I want to be more expressive and play more freely. Hopefully from this experience, I'm able to learn how to deal with pressure better.
"We can also see how Mengyu and Yihan have matured. With other promising paddlers in our team, we have good cause to be optimistic about winning a medal at Tokyo 2020."