The standard of Singapore women's table tennis has grown by leaps and bounds since the days of Jing Junhong. (Photo by Guek Peng Siong/SSC)
At the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Moscow, Singapore’s table tennis team consisting of Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Beibei were crowned victors. With unparalleled precision and grit, they sliced their way past China’s undefeated champions to clinch the winning title for the first time in history.
Over the years, our women’s table tennis has indeed become a force to be reckoned with. Let us take a look at some of the major milestones in the history of this successful sport. Table tennis saw a humble beginning back in 1926, when the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was established, and the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) started later in 1931, when the demand for the sport had begun to grow exponentially.
One of the oldest star players in the history of table tennis is none other than Shanghai-born Jing Junhong, affectionately known as ‘Singapore’s daughter-in-law’. Her unexpected entrance into the local women’s table tennis scene marked the beginning of the team’s growth into a formidable force on the international arena. She honed her paddling skills at the 2000 Sydney Games, where she finished fourth in the women’s singles.
Past her prime at age 42, she continues to contribute to the success of our women’s table tennis team by serving as deputy head coach of the team, sparring with them and providing them with constructive advice to push them forward.
One generation down, Li Jiawei established herself as an exceptional player, winning three gold medals at both the 1999 Southeast Asian Games and the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Apart from the numerous awards she has brought home, what truly sets this five-time Sportswoman of the Year apart from most players is her sheer stoicism in keeping her table tennis dream alive, despite having to play the role of a wife and a mother.
When asked if she would have done anything differently, she said: “I have no regrets. If I have regrets, I won’t be playing on.”
Li’s contribution to the women’s table tennis team pushed the team further towards a series of breakthroughs in the following years. In 2002, Singapore won a stunning total of 11 medals (3 golds, 1 silver and 7 bronzes) at the 17th Commonwealth Games held in Manchester, England. These were the very first gold medals won by Singapore at the Games.
Our women’s table tennis team continued to steer steadily uphill as Li’s legacy was carried on by Feng Tianwei. Two months after registering as a Singapore citizen, Feng clinched a silver medal at the 2008 Asian games. Following that victory, Feng stumbled through several sub-standard performances at the 2004 Athens Games, where she settled for fourth place in the women’s singles event.
Despite the weight of the nation’s expectations, Feng fought on with the belief that victory was just around the corner. The result spoke for itself - she surpassed all expectations by leading Singapore to its ﬁrst world team title last year. Breakthrough after breakthrough, our women’s table tennis team has continued to earn numerous titles across the international stage.
Isabelle Li is one of the few local-born paddlers who, at the tender age of 16, owns a silver medal won at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. She is a defensive specialist, and clocks in endless hours of training, motivated by the hope that she will be able to leave her mark at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
She said: “One of the things I enjoy most during competitions is being able to wear the ﬂag on my shirt. There’s a sense of responsibility, pride and honour. It’s a feeling that those who that have not gone through it will never understand.”
Spirited local talents like Isabelle are a source of inspiration to other young athletes, proving that it is possible for a Singaporean to establish himself internationally. Moreover, Singapore wastes no time in discovering young gems. The STTA achieves this through the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Table Tennis programme, initiated by STTA president Lee Bee Wah. Children are introduced to the sport at an early age, and this is the time where talents can be spotted and eventually be groomed into champions.
Our young paddlers are also provided with ample exposure, having been to World Championships, major games, and overseas centralised training stints. Even as our ping pong legends leave large shoes behind for successive generations to fill, our talented youth give us reason to believe that Singapore’s women’s table tennis legacy will be carried on for a long time to come.