By Raj Kumar for Team Singapore Website
Feng Tianwei carried the hopes of a nation on her shoulders and she delivered. Just like how she played a pivotal role in keeping the women’s team’s campaign alive in Beijing 2008, she has again proven to be the darling of the Singapore team with her recent performance at London 2012.
It was 12 years ago since Jin Jun Hong became the 1st Singaporean to feature in the women’s singles Olympic semi-final. That was Sydney 2000. The torch was then passed to Li Jiawei. And the ‘Ice Maiden’ also raised Singapore’s hopes of winning a medal. But she too was beaten in Athens 2004 and Beijing four years later. Fast-forward to 1 August 2012, a new heroine has put Singapore in the history books.
25-year-old Tianwei was up against Kasumi Ishikawa in the bronze medal playoff at the Excel Arena. The stadium was packed, which also included President Tony Tan and his family, DPM Teo Chee Hean, as well as about 50-odd Team Singapore supporters. A day ago, the world number 8 played lengthy matches in the quarter and semifinals respectively. Hence, it was a question of whether Tianwei had enough rest to play against an opponent who’s six years younger. Had she done enough homework against the Japanese paddler? And was she feeling nervous or facing the pressure to deliver a medal? Well none of that mattered, especially when she won the first game, 11-9.
The momentum continued when she opened up a 5-point lead in the 2nd game at 8-3. But 19-year-old Kasumi was undeterred and she fought back to 6-9. Thankfully, Tianwei’s composure remained intact and she coolly dispatched her opponent 11-6. The 3rd game began with the Republic’s starlet racing to a 7-2 lead. At that moment, you could feel the thrill and adrenaline rush that was coursing through Tianwei’s veins. Wherever you might have been watching the ‘live’ match, it was quietly evident that Singapore’s chances of an Olympic medal were no longer a whimsical expectation, but rather a realistic target. The manner in which Tianwei wrapped up the 3rd game at 11-6, had us stunned as the Republic was only minutes away from ending a 52-year wait for that elusive individual Olympic medal.
The fourth game began and within three minutes, a timeout was called with Tianwei leading 4-0. Tianwei then extended her lead to 6-0, much to the delight of the supporters in the stadium. Having won 3 of 4 head-to-head matches in the last two years, it was crystal clear that Tianwei was not about to let herself, her team-mates and more importantly, her country down, especially when she could already feel the ‘sweet taste of success’. And although Kasumi started to mount a comeback, she just could not seem to find a way to stop a highly determined Tianwei. The Republic’s flagbearer then went on to win 11-5 and thus secured the Bronze medal, by winning the playoff 4-0.
It was hugs all around as the Singapore contingent celebrated with ‘High 5s’ and waving mini Singapore flags. Tianwei was given a rousing reception by the rest of the 3,000 crowd – many came to ask for an autograph or to be photographed with her. Backstage, upon completion of her media interviews, Tianwei made her way to meet President Tony Tan and several members of the Singapore contingent. And it was all hugs, compliments and smiles as everyone was extremely proud of her accomplishments.
“It means a lot to me because I wasn’t in good condition coming into the tournament. I really wanted to get a medal but I wasn’t confident. Today, I showed myself I could do it. I need to believe in myself more”, expressed the newly crowned Olympic bronze medallist.
As for Ishikawa, she was bitter about the crushing defeat. “I think that was the worst match I have ever played. The level of performance was really really bad for me. I don’t think there is any special pressure, but I couldn’t own the game, so that’s another thing I need to overcome”, said Kasumi.
Well, Tianwei turns 26 at the end of the month, but she’s certainly given Singapore an early National Day present as the Republic prepares to celebrate its 47th birthday. She will now rest and come back in the Women’s Team event, together with Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei. The target before leaving for London was two medals. Well, half of that mission is complete. The challenge for the next medal is about to begin.
“Tianwei’s victory in the bronze medal playoff is a historic day for Singapore table tennis and for Singapore sports. Tianwei has done Singapore proud. All Singaporeans can celebrate and rejoice in her victory. I’m very happy to be here to support her. Her victory will help inspire the other members of the table tennis team, to do their best in the team competition. I think this shows that Singapore can achieve excellence in Sports at the highest level. I would also like to acknowledge the hard work put in by the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Singapore Table Tennis Association in grooming our players. I think what Tianwei has achieved today, shows what is possible. I hope it will help inspire more young Singaporeans…to aspire to do likewise.” - President Tony Tan Keng Yam
“It’s a great moment for Singapore and it’s a great moment for Feng Tianwei. She’s come a long way. We’re very glad to have her with us and for her to win this fantastic individual medal for us. It’s the first time in 52 years!” - President of Singapore National Olympic Council, Teo Chee Hean
“It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving athlete. I think Tianwei is the best ambassador for local sports. Her work ethics are awesome. She’s a lioness in the arena. And out of the arena, I’m sure any sports association would love to have her as an ambassador. This is such a confidence booster isn’t it? Everyone is so uplifted now. Prior to coming to London, everyone was talking about the slum that she’s in. But I’ve always believed in the unpredictability of sport. How do you know that the turn is not around the corner. And Tianwei has just gone and proven that. I know that when we chose her as the flagbearer, several eyebrows were raised. And I still stand by that decision because I personally think that Tianwei brought the Team silver medal back from Beijing in 2008. So nobody can be more deserving than Tianwei. And if she was truly in a slum, then perhaps being the flagbearer might inspire her and obviously, it worked! And you’ve seen her go from strength to strength and she keeps getting better with every match. And that’s awesome!” - Chef-de-Mission of Team Singapore, Jessie Phua
“She was awesome. Feng Tianwei played very well. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Singaporeans for supporting us, for being behind us. And this medal is for all Singaporeans and this is an early birthday present for the country”. - President of Singapore’s Table Tennis Association, Lee Bee Wah
“I think she was well prepared. The 1st game was very important, especially when it was 9-9. And she won the last two points with her forehand attack. That boosted her confidence, so the opening game was very important. And I think this is only the first step. We still have the women’s team event. Just now, we congratulated her on a job well done. But now, she needs a good rest and prepare for the team event.” - Manager of Table Tennis, Loy Soo Han