SEA Games: S'pore men’s table tennis team clinch gold for the first time since 2015
PHNOM PENH – After reclaiming the throne as kings of South-east Asian table tennis, the Singaporean quintet of Clarence Chew, Koen Pang, Izaac Quek, Beh Kun Ting and Ethan Poh were egging each other on to dance to the Vietnamese viral song See Tinh at the media mixed zone.
While they were too shy to complete the moves in public, they were bold on court in the men’s team final against Malaysia, running out 3-0 winners at the Morodok Techo National Stadium Table Tennis Hall on Thursday.
And finally, after eight years, the gold medal was back in Singaporean hands after the team comprising Chew, Chen Feng, Li Hu, Yang Zi and current men’s team coach Gao Ning won the title in 2015.
This is also the first time the Republic has won this event with an all-local squad since Tan Khoon Hong, Tan Kai Kok and Chia Chong Boon did so on home soil in 1973.
Singapore had won seven out of eight men’s team gold medals from 1999 to 2015 – the event was excluded in 2011 – with a mix of China-born and local-born players.
Chew, who was part of the 2015 winning team, said: “It feels amazing. I was the youngest player in the team in 2015, and now I’m the oldest at 27 in my sixth SEA Games. To be able to lead the team to victory here is a very sweet moment for me.
“I’m very proud of all the players, we did very well to win this gold medal.”
In Cambodia, Singapore had brushed aside Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines in the group stage, and defending champions Thailand in the semi-finals with 3-0 victories.
With Malaysia completing their marathon 3-2 semi-final win over Vietnam close to midnight on Wednesday, Singapore were no doubt fresher for the final. But the result was rarely in doubt, even if their Causeway rivals tried their best to put Singapore under pressure early on.
Chew rebounded from one game down to beat Leong Chee Feng 3-1 (8-11, 11-4, 11-9, 11-6), before Pang beat Javen Choong 3-1 (11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-8) in front of a vociferous 300-strong crowd inside the Morodok Techo National Stadium Table Tennis Hall,
Pang, 21, who was won the men’s singles gold in 2019, said: “I didn’t feel as nervous because Clarence had given us the lead, and I just had to carry on the momentum.
“It also felt great to have fellow Singaporeans behind us and we are grateful for everyone who came down to support us.”
That set the stage for 16-year-old Izaac to beat Wong Qi Shen 3-2 (11-9, 12-14, 11-13, 11-9, 11-7) in a thrilling comeback to seal overall victory.
Currently the highest-ranked player in South-east Asia at world No. 68, he looked down for the count with an 8-5 deficit in the fourth game, but rallied superbly with confident serves and returns to mount a stirring fight back.
He said: “It was the same scenario in the group stage against the same player. I didn’t feel the pressure because I knew my teammates had my back regardless of the result.
“I told myself I have nothing to lose, and focused on the tactics for each point rather than the result.”
Coach Gao looked spent after the match, but still indulged in numerous wefies in which he beamed as brightly as he did when he won 11 SEA Games gold medals for Singapore, before he retired in 2018.
The 40-year-old said: “I’m more nervous as a coach than as a player – today, it was like I was sitting on a chair of needles.
“Players need to focus only on themselves, while coaches have to take care of a team and think of many areas such as line-ups, strategies and making sure everyone is in good condition. After all the hard work everyone has put in, I’m very heartened to see these local-born players taking over the mantle.
“We cannot get ahead of ourselves for the individual events, and have to go all out and not hold anything back.”
In the women’s team event, Thailand beat Malaysia 3-0 to retain their crown, while Singapore and Vietnam shared bronze.
The individual events commence on Saturday with the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles quarter-finals.