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» Olympics 2012
S'pore looks ahead to Rio
Publication Date : 06-08-2012
Despite being overrun by the Chinese express, Singapore's table tennis men departed the Olympics with one valuable lesson: Youth, not just experience, will be required for 2016.
Gao Ning, Yang Zi and Zhan Jian failed to take a single game off China in their men's team quarter-finals yesterday, going down 0-3 in a tie that lasted just over an hour.
The result was no surprise. China, the top seeds and defending champions, had three of the four best players in the world in their line-up. Singapore's best player was Gao, ranked 15th in the world.
While he was satisfied with his charges' efforts, Singapore men's coach Yang Chuanning was concerned about the future.
"If we want to reach one level higher, we need some young players to come up," said the former head coach of Jiangsu's provincial team.
"The average age of the team is rather high, so we must step up our efforts to develop young players from Singapore.
"If we do this well, we have a chance to blood one or two players (at the 2016 Olympics), at least one I hope."
Time is not on Singapore's side. Gao turns 30 this year, Yang Zi is 27, while Zhan is also 30.
China, with its conveyor belt of table tennis prodigies, has a younger team. Zhang Jike, the Olympic singles champion, is 24 while world No. 2 Ma Long is 23. Only Wang Hao, ranked third, is older at 29.
"We need to have a blend of youth and experience," said coach Yang. "If the average age is too high, the team will not be dynamic enough."
Still, it was a historic finish for the Singapore men, who placed amongst the top eight at the Olympics for the first time.
Gao, Yang Zi and Zhan have all expressed their desire to stay on and do better for the 2016 Games in Rio, but the hope is that younger players can challenge them.
Pang Xuejie, Clarence Chew and Chen Feng, said coach Yang, are not too far off their seniors' standards. "All they need is more competition experience," he said.
Yesterday, Gao was the first to fall, losing 0-3 (4-11, 5-11, 6-11) to Ma. Zhan was no better, going down 0-3 (8-11, 3-11, 4-11) to Wang in the second singles.
There were hopes that Zhan and Yang Zi could take a match off the Chinese in the doubles, but that did not come off either. The Singapore duo lost to Zhang and Wang 0-3 (8-11, 9-11, 3-11).
"The old guys like us can't play on forever," said Zhan afterwards. "Singapore will only get stronger if the younger players develop well."
Singapore's table tennis chief Lee Bee Wah felt the same way.
"For 2016, I would definitely like to see younger players like Xuejie and Clarence (in the team)," she told The Straits Times. "I hope that what the men's team have achieved at this Olympics will inspire them."
The spotlight will now shine on Singapore's women, who beat North Korea 3-0 late on Saturday to reach the team semi-finals.
The first match was won by Wang Yuegu, who triumphed 3-1 (11-7, 11-9, 5-11, 11-5) against backspin specialist Ri Myong Sun.
Singapore's bronze-medal heroine Feng Tianwei started slow in the second match, but rallied to beat Kim Jong 3-1 (9-11, 11-4, 11-9, 11-4).
Li Jiawei and Wang wrapped up the tie with a 3-1 (4-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-8) doubles success over Kim and Ri Mi Gyong.
Singapore - the 2008 silver medallists - were due to play Japan earlier this morning for a place in the final.