STTA won't renew Feng's contract
Multiple Olympic medallist parts ways with STTA, who turns to younger players for Tokyo 2020
In a stunning move, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday announced that the curtain has come down on the career of its biggest star, Feng Tianwei.
Feng owns one Olympic silver medal and two bronzes.
She was part of the Singapore women's team that finished second in the 2008 Olympics and third four years later, when she also collected a bronze in the women's singles.
In a release issued yesterday, the STTA announced a revamp of its high performance strategy to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The STTA drew up the plan after a consultation session with key stakeholders, including Sport Singapore, Singapore Sports School, Singapore National Olympic Council, coaches and players.
Feng, currently the women's world No. 6, will not be part of the team for the 2020 Olympics as she will be 34 then, and "does not fit into the STTA's current plans for rejuvenation".
The 30-year-old, who has earned close to $3 million in salary, sponsorship and monetary rewards, had just carried Singapore's flag at the Women's World Cup in the United States earlier this month, when she won the singles bronze after losing to eventual champion, 16-year-old Japanese Miu Hirano in the semi-finals.
STTA president Ellen Lee said: "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.
"After the Rio Olympics, it is indeed timely for STTA to develop, rejuvenate and refresh our teams to be future ready. Bold moves are needed if we are interested in challenging the top table tennis nations for honours.
"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.
"We need to develop and rejuvenate our national teams to be future ready, and we need to place greater emphasis on the development of our youth players."
Feng, who moved to Singapore from China under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme in 2007 and received citizenship the following year, anchored the team to a momentous triumph over mighty China in the final of the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships.
She led the women's table tennis team at the Rio Olympics in August, and they failed to win a medal for the first time after tasting success at the last two Games.
Despite being the second seed, Feng was blitzed by Japan's Ai Fukuhara 4-0 in the women's singles quarter-finals, and she was also blanked by both Kasumi Ishikawa and Mima Ito 3-0 in the women's team bronze-medal match as Singapore fell 3-1 to the Japanese.
Feng, who met up with Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi yesterday, did not respond to The New Paper's queries.
But on her Facebook page, she posted: "I will continue to compete in international competition using a different method.
"I will share my plans with the media and the public in a few days' time. Thank you everyone for your concern, I will not leave the international scene!"
It is understood that she may still be able to compete on the ITTF Pro Tour at her own cost, subject to STTA's endorsement and her agreement to the association's terms and conditions. She may also play in a foreign table tennis league.
The future of Singapore's No. 2 female paddler, Yu Mengyu, hangs in the balance, as the STTA said it will monitor her injuries closely.
The 27-year-old world No. 13 had been resting with a back ailment after the Olympics and could still lead the women's team at the next Olympics.
Endorsing a trio of younger China-born paddlers, the STTA noted that 20-year-old world No. 18 Zeng Jian, 22-year-old world No. 31 Zhou Yihan and world No. 71 Lin Ye, 20, "are in their early 20s, and will be able to lead the national team for the next two Olympic cycles".
Said Lee: "With our 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 2020 Olympics.
"We also hope to field a local-born talent at the 2020 Olympics.
"We urge Singaporeans who have put their belief and trust in us to continue to support us."
It has been a week of upheaval at the STTA, who sacked men's No. 2 Li Hu on Monday for "repeated code of conduct breaches".
The men's team also face changes.
Singapore's top male paddler, world No. 41 Gao Ning, will undertake a new role as national men's team assistant coach cum player, understudying national men's coach Liu Jiayi.
The 34-year-old will be closely involved in mentoring and training the younger generation of players from the national and intermediate squads. Gao is expected to retire from playing after the Asian Games 2018.
However, with Li Hu gone and Zhan Jian's earlier retirement due to injury, coupled with Gao's impending retirement, the men's team will almost certainly struggle on the international stage.
The team are light on numbers, with 22-year-old world No. 117 Chen Feng and 20-year-old world No. 192 Clarence Chew the only ones in their 20s, while world No. 168 Yang Zi is 32.
The STTA will place their emphasis on Chen and Chew, who will be primed to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Chen proved himself by qualifying for the men's singles event in Rio.
We regret to learn the Singapore Table Tennis Association has parted ways with Feng Tianwei. With Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in mind... we will work closely with the STTA and SportSG to select the best athletes to represent Team Singapore for the upcoming major Games.
— Chris Chan, secretary general, Singapore National Olympic Council
Sport Singapore has been kept updated by STTA regarding its plans for our top table tennis players. We will discuss with Feng Tianwei, STTA and SNOC on the option of supporting her under the spexScholarship scheme, and the performance targets and milestones expected of her.
—Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi
FENG TIANWEI CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
- 2008 Olympics silver (team)
- 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships: 1st
- Commonwealth Games gold (singles, team)
- 2012 Olympics bronze (singles and team)
- ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals: 1st (doubles)
- 2014 Commonwealth Games gold (singles, doubles, team)
- Asian Games bronze (singles, team)
- 2015 Asian Cup: 1st (singles)