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Leonard Thomas: It's OK to cry

After tears, one must rise above fears


She cried when she lost in the quarter-finals of table tennis' women's singles event last week. She wanted more and she felt she was capable.

It hurt badly when she didn't reach her goal. Yu Mengyu asked for a few minutes alone and, in a corner of the cavernous Riocentro Pavilion 3, she cried, before shedding some light on what had just happened in her match, struggling to hold her emotions together.

The Singapore paddler was in tears, again, here on Tuesday, after the women's team suffered a crushing loss to Japan in the battle for Olympic bronze.

Reality had hit hard. Yu, making her debut at these Rio Games, would go home with no medal - the first time Singapore table tennis will return with no bounty in three Olympics.

Very soon, Yu and the rest of the team will return to the grind of intense training and a calendar of tournaments around the world.

The four-year build-up towards the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will be a period laced with uncertainty and fraught with worry, over injuries and loss of form.

Over whether the best chance for success has just passed.


The Olympics are that tough, it is why tears flow so freely.

It is why we see those on the podium cry in joy.

It is why I saw Yu cry and shooter Jasmine Ser strive to hold herself together after a poor performance in the 50m rifle 3 positions, her pet event.

"The ecstasy of victory, and the agony of defeat," was the immortal line of ABC's Wide World of Sport all those years ago.

How apt.  

Winners consistently repeat their success at biennial world championships, but they are a far smaller breed at the Olympics, which are staged once every four years.

On Tuesday, women's football superstar Marta was in tears at the Maracana Stadium after Brazil's cruel loss to Sweden in the semi-finals.

At the age of 30, she does not know if her legs and lungs can support one final assault for elusive gold at the Tokyo Games.

Late on Monday night, Allyson Felix failed to hold back her tears below decks at the Olympic Stadium in front of a big crowd of media. 

The elegant American sprinter only just failed to win the women's 400m, shoved a silver, instead, after Bahamian Shaunae Miller's bizarre dive at the line.

Felix was bidding for a fifth track and field gold, the most by a woman in the history of the Olympics.

With tears in her eyes, she said: "I'm disappointed. It's been a tough year and I was kind of hoping it would come together... I tried to give it all I have, but I didn't have any more to give in the last 10 metres."

It will be another four years before the next Olympics and Father Time also holds the advantage over the 30-year-old.

Very soon, we must see the Singapore Table Tennis Association's blueprint for 2020 and the quest to be among the medals again.

The target of a medal was missed, but Feng Tianwei and Yu did reach the last eight in the women's singles here and the team were semi-finalists.

Feng's 29, Yu, 27, and Zhou Yihan is 22, so they are capable of doing damage in four years, if the battleplan is smart.

Shooter Ser wants to win in 2020.

She said so after her final event here, perhaps the shock of her failure only minutes earlier had set her up for an emotional response.

She entered Rio with qualification for a final the target, but she could not even finish in the top 20 in either of her events.

She is 25, approaching her peak, she will be straining to qualify on merit, once again, in 2020.

Because she knows it is the ultimate test.

A big part of the magic of the Olympics is also the tears.

And Ser and Yu must aim to only cry joy in 2020.

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