By Raj Kumar for Team Singapore website
More than half of the 2,000-odd crowd was cheering for Team Singapore even before the start of the playoff against South Korea. Just like me, I think they could certainly feel the taste, the smell and the thrill of victory for Team Singapore even before the game started. Such a strong reception by the crowd was unexpected, and I am sure the 100-odd hardcore Team Singapore supporters played a pivotal role in the women’s national team’s pursuit of the Bronze medal. They were cheering for every single point and that certainly spurred on Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu to a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Koreans.
Tianwei once again, was given the role of team-leader and started the campaign going. And as fate would have it, she was paired against Kim Kyungah. The 35-year-old veteran had lost to her 25-year-old Singaporean opponent in the women’s singles campaign just a week ago. Tianwei, with her right arm strapped due to a strain, won the first set for Singapore 11-9, 11-8, 13-1.1
The second set featured ‘Ice Maiden’ Li Jiawei. It was a stunning move to see her as opposed to Wang Yuegu, which is the usual strategy. The coaches must have felt that Jiawei could draw on her overall playing experience to try and win a singles match, at this crucial stage of the competition. The 30-year-old had never featured in a singles match as part of the Team format. But she still rose to the occasion and faced off against Seok Hajung, with 11-5, 11-8, 6-11,11-8. Her victory sent a massive surge of adrenalin for the Singapore supporters and amongst her team-mates.
Wang Yuegu came on and started to warm-up against Korea’s Dang Yeseo. That gave Jiawei and Hajung a few extra minutes to cool down as they were about to return into the court of play for the Women’s Doubles. In the 1st game, they were tied at 5-5, then 7-7. But eventually, with their quick reflexes and the ability to read each other’s game, Jiawei and Yuegu wrapped up the game 11-9. The 2nd game began a minute later and Singapore picked up from where they left off. And the duo raced to a 10-3 lead before wrapping up with an 11-6 win. At that moment, you could already hear, read and see the news headlines, regarding the addition of a new chapter in Singapore’s sports history. The Republic was probably ten minutes away from bringing home an unprecedented two medals from the Olympic Games.
The third game began and much to everyone’s surprise, the Singapore pairing went down 6-11. The crowd began to roar again as you could see Jiawei and Yuegu ‘feeding off the energy’ from the Singapore supporters. They were leading 6-3 in the 4th game, before a timeout was called. But upon resumption, our paddlers never looked back as they increased their lead point by point, till they reached match-point. And in one quick serve, it was all over for the South Koreans as Singapore’s Table Tennis Association had lived up to its target of two medals. They won the game 11-5 and swept their 4th ranked rivals 3-0. It was celebrations and congratulatory messages all around. The chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole, Oleehhh’ began to reverberate around the arena. Acting Minister of Community Development Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing was almost teary-eyed and he’d almost lost his voice, following the shouting and cheering for almost two hours.
Just as how they were comprehensively beaten by the Japanese, this time round, Korea were unfortunately on the receiving end of a 3-0 thrashing, by a Singapore team which was filled with motivation, anger, desire, hunger and the ambition to ending its campaign on a high. This was probably the last time Tianwei would partner Jiawei and Yuegu at the Olympics, as the latter duo are expected to make way for the younger talented players like Isabelle Li and Zena Sim.
Tianwei said, “We played very well today, especially my other two team-mates who played beyond expectations. I wasn’t truly injured but due to the fact that I’d played many games in such a short period of time, there was something wrong with my shoulder. But we really wanted to cherish this day as it was probably our last match at the Olympics together. And we wanted to end on a high.”
Jiawei who’s about to turn 31 on National Day summed up her performance by saying, “I was a little nervous as I’d never played in the singles of a team event. But I had the confidence in myself and I think I did well. It’s a bronze medal and I’m not too disappointed with that. And if I’m asked to come back at the age of 35 for Rio 2016, then I’ll probably agree if Singapore will have me.” And Yuegu went a step further to say that, “We’ve won the bronze and the silver team medals. And we hope to leave it up to the future Singapore squads to win that elusive gold medal.”
Here are some reactions to the paddlers’ win:
“Fantastic performance….I’ve been shouting myself hoarse! Congratulations to Team Singapore. We are bringing back another bronze medal from the Olympics and ahead of National Day. Happy Birthday Singapore! And I’m very proud of all those who’ve turned up here in support and help Team Singapore to its medal victory.” - Acting Minister for Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing
“It’s wonderful! And it’s a great feeling. Our players have done very well and they fought very hard for very point. At the Olympic Games, the competition is very tough. Every match is different and I was quite sure that we would be able to come back, fight and win the bronze. In fact, I’ll be presenting the medals later on tonight”. - Vice President, International Olympic Committee, Ng Ser Miang
“Our Girls were fantastic! Despite all the injuries they’ve suffered, they continued to fight on. And I would like to thank all the Singaporeans who believed in us and supported us. I’d like to thank our wellwishers and our sponsors. Happy National Day, Singapore!” - President, Singapore Table Tennis Federation, Lee Bee Wah
“It was very important to lift the spirits of our players after that defeat against Japan, because our girls felt they had a strong chance to beat the 2nd seeds. So we forgot about that match and we did a great deal of preparation, including the lineup. And we caught the Koreans by surprise by fielding Jiawei in the 2nd singles match cos it would usually have been Yuegu. And Jiawei went on to prove that she still has what it takes, when it comes down to the big-match temperament. And today, we played like a team and we win like a team.”- Team Manager, Eddy Tay