SEA Games: 'Unrealistic' to expect gold medal sweep for Singapore table tennis

Gabriel Choo
18-year-old Ethan Poh is one of the youngest national paddlers competing in the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: STTA)

After picking up six out of seven gold medals at the last SEA games in 2015 on home soil, the pressure is on the national paddlers to maintain their winning streak at this year’s SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

During a pre-Games press conference at the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) headquarters in Toa Payoh on Thursday afternoon (3 August), STTA president Ellen Lee said that while winning gold at every event is ideal, it was “unrealistic”.

“We are expecting our opponents to do much better than they had done previously but we don’t want to be over-optimistic to say that we will win all the golds,” said Lee.

Doing their best

To ensure that the paddlers do their best at the Games, STTA invited sparring partners from other countries to coach paddlers on different playing styles and also conducted daily intensive training sessions. On top of that, psychologists were called in to help paddlers cope with the pressure.

Lee added, “My expectation is that they really have to do their best because we have been giving them all the opportunities and trainings that they need. We want to see a certain return as well.”

This year’s team consisting of 10 players will see a younger group of paddlers fielded in Kuala Lumpur. The youngest, including some SEA Games debutants, are 18 years old.

One of them is Ethan Poh, 18, who will be competing in the doubles and team events. Poh is coming off a good performance at the Southeast Asia Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships in June where he won the junior singles title and junior mixed doubles title.

Fellow debutant Lucas Tan, 18, who is taking part in the team event, is also hopeful of a podium finish. Tan said, “Perseverance is important. I will just give my best and hopefully I will be able to win a medal in the team event.”

Citing Thailand and Vietnam as their strongest competitors, the more experienced players have been guiding the less experienced ones in how to manage nerves and expectations.

Singaporean paddler Pang Xue Jie, 24, explained, “The pressure is always there. They are not just competing against their competitors but also against themselves, hence it is important to encourage them not to give up.”

Another more experienced paddler is Clarence Chew, 21, who has been telling his younger teammates to use the SEA games as a platform to improve further.

Chew told Yahoo News Singapore, “Playing for the first time can be quite exciting but what’s important is that they go in with an open mind. We should be aiming for gold but enjoying the experience is important as well.”

Poh said, “He (Chew) is a good senior and always guides me through the matches and the games. We see each other every day during trainings, which can be quite tiring, but that is where we will spur each other on and improve together.”

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