Gao Ning should qualify for Olympics despite injury
Gao Ning's ankle injury could restrict him at Olympic qualifiers
Singapore's top male table tennis player Gao Ning faces a race against time to be ready for the Asia Olympic qualifying tournament in Hong Kong next month.
The 33-year-old world No. 21 injured a tendon in his right foot in the 3-2 Group C loss to Poland at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur last Sunday.
He saw a doctor and was sent back to Singapore yesterday to rest.
Men's national coach Liu Jiayi told The New Paper that Gao Ning will have to rest for "two to three weeks", which means he will not have much training time ahead of the Olympic qualifiers from April 13 to 17.
"I hope he will recover in time to take part in the qualifiers but, even if he doesn't or is not in the best shape, we are not too worried about his Olympic qualification," said Liu.
"If he doesn't get one of the quota places in Hong Kong, he should be able to make it based on his world ranking."
The qualifiers represent the first opportunity for Asian paddlers to qualify for the Rio Olympics in August, with 11 places up for grabs in both the men's and women's singles.
The tournament is divided in two stages: In the first stage, players from the continent's five sub-regions - Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, West Asia and South-east Asia - will compete within their own regions, with the five champions each securing an Olympic slot.
The remaining paddlers will then come together in a single competition in the second stage to fight for the remaining six places.
For Singapore, the first stage of the Hong Kong tournament is essentially a SEA Games-level competition and a paddler from the Republic has won the men's singles gold at every biennial Games since 2007.
Gao Ning won four gold medals in that span, with the now-retired Zhan Jian winning in 2013 when he was not selected for the Games.
Forty Olympic slots will be allocated via continental qualifiers like the Hong Kong competition, after which 22 places will be distributed according to the world rankings, with each country allowed to send two paddlers in each of the singles competitions.
Meanwhile, without Gao Ning, the men's team finished last in Group C at the ongoing world championships and were placed in the 13th-24th bracket of the Championship division.
Clarence Chew and Co. lost 3-1 to Denmark in their first match of that bracket to finish the tournament joint-21st out of 24 teams.
- LIM SAY HENG