High hopes for Singapore’s new generation in table tennis

Koen Pang. Photo: STTA

If everything goes according to plan for the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), they will have a team capable of competing at a high level once again in the coming years, according to coach Jing Jun Hong.

The association’s head of youth development has reason to believe after she witnessed her charges clinch eight out of 13 golds in the recently concluded South East Asia Junior & Cadet Table Tennis Champions held from 13 to 16 June.

“As of now, looking at their progress, it’s only a matter of time before they enter the national [senior] team,” Jing told Yahoo Singapore on Friday (23 June) at the Singapore Table Tennis Association office in Toa Payoh.

Jing singled out 15-year-old Koen Pang as the most promising prospect, after he took home three golds in all the cadet events – singles, doubles and team events. Pang is also currently world number 27 in the International Table Tennis Federation rankings for players aged 15 and below.

But what impressed Jing most was the team’s outstanding performance despite having limited time to train. Most had to prepare for exams before the tournament.

“They all had exams until 27 or 28 May, and we only had about two weeks of uninterrupted training with no distractions,” Jing explained.

“They had to sacrifice their social time, as well as family time during the school holidays. For seven days a week, even during public holidays, we are training and their output for this competition, in a way, has been rewarded.

“It’s not just the result that is satisfying, but also the way the team came together and agreed on how much effort they had to put in to get back the results.”

Ethan Poh (Photo: STTA)

Apart from Pang’s achievements, Singapore also saw 18-year-old pair Ethan Poh (pictured above) and Nicole Lew both emerge champions in the junior singles event. Poh paired up with Wong Xinru to win the Junior Mixed Doubles, while Lew was also part of the Junior Girls’ Team that won gold.

All of them are born and bred in Singapore.

“I’m not sure where their ceiling is, but it’s not impossible to say that perhaps the next Singapore champion (at the Olympics) may come from the current crop, if they continue to work hard,” Jing declared, although she believes that in order for them to reach those heights, the association has to support the athletes.

At the Rio Olympics last year, the senior national team did not manage a podium finish – the first time in three editions that they failed to bring home a medal from the Games. The team’s lacklustre performance prompted STTA to examine its talent rejuvenation efforts.

“Right now, what people may see is that there’s a gap between our generations,” Jing explained.

“The younger ones right now still need more time to bridge the gap… they have to have a proper environment for them to prosper and reach that standard.”

For starters, the association has been adopting sports science as part of their athlete development, said Jing.

“Within these two years, with that base to start of with, we’ve seen a lot of results but of course, to further improve the standards, we’ve got to have a more professional set up,” said Jing.

The 48-year-old former national player also believes having more competition experience will go a long way in benefitting the players, which is what the association is trying to do by exposing them to more top class competition.

But more importantly, Jing hopes that the juniors will continue fighting towards the goal of making the national team, instead of choosing the path that is deemed the norm in Singapore – prioritising their studies.

“Not everyone has the potential to go far in sports, but when you have the opportunity to do so, you should definitely try and take a route most people won’t take,” said Jing.

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