Zhan Jian's retirement a blow for men's paddlers
Elbow injury forces singles star Zhan Jian to retire
With around a year to go to the Rio Olympics, the national men's table tennis team have been hit by the announcement of key player Zhan Jian's retirement.
The 33-year-old has had to cut short his athletic career because of a chronic elbow injury.
In a statement released yesterday, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) said doctors had diagnosed maturation of the scar tissue with atrophy and weakened forearm flexors in Zhan Jian's right elbow.
It has affected training and he has been unable to compete on the ITTF World Tour and other competitions since August last year.
Zhan Jian had been seeking treatment at the Singapore Sports Institute and Changi General Hospital but there was no breakthrough improvement, which led to his decision to retire.
He has indicated his interest to continue to contribute to STTA in another capacity, although for the time being, he will focus on his recovery and spend more time with his parents.
"It has been a great sporting journey and I would like to thank Singapore for giving me so many opportunities," said Zhan Jian, who was a member of the China national team from 1997 to 2007.
"I would also like to thank the STTA for nurturing and supporting me. Last but not least, special thanks to my fellow Singaporeans, teammates, coaches and fans who have supported me throughout these years."
Since arriving in Singapore in 2010, the Hubei native helped the men's team achieve their best finish at the Olympics when he teamed up with Gao Ning and Yang Zi to advance to the top eight at the 2012 London Games.
He also won the men's singles gold at the 2013 South-east Asia Games and 2014 Commonwealth Games.
With Gao Ning and Yang Zi also in their 30s, the STTA will need to quickly rejuvenate the men's team.
One issue is the fact that Zhan Jian was drafted as part of the foreign sports talent scheme when he was already 28.
In reply to queries from The New Paper whether the STTA would now have an age requirement in place for paddlers under the scheme, STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng said: "We invited Zhan Jian to join the Singapore team because of his experience, unique playing style and technical abilities.
"Zhan Jian's strengths have benefited the Singapore team and our local national paddlers.
"Local talent like Isabelle Li, Clarence Chew and Pang Xuejie have benefited greatly from sparring and competing with our foreign talent. Furthermore, our foreign talent have shared their experience, partnered, challenged and motivated our local talent to excel.
"With proper planning, foreign talent can work together with local talent to achieve synergy and impressive results. For instance, at the recent SEA Games, Clarence partnered Chen Feng to bag a bronze in the doubles.
"We believe we must strike a balance between foreign talent and local talent in our national squads. The STTA is committed to growing the pool of young local athletes by spotting young talent early and nurturing them through our youth development programmes.
"These include the early introduction of table tennis to students at the PAP Community Foundation Kindergartens, zone training centres, Junior Development Squad, National Youth Team, School within School programme (collaboration with Singapore Sports School) and Intermediate Squad."
Wong was optimistic that any disruption caused by Zhan Jian's retirement to the national team's Olympics preparations will be minimal, and the likes of 27-year-old Li Hu, 22-year-old Pang Xuejie, 21-year-old Chen Feng and 19-year-old Clarence will step up to the plate.
"From the time Zhan Jian was injured, the STTA has made secondary plans for the men's team. A lot more exposure were given to our younger players like Li Hu, Chen Feng and Clarence Chew to work harder to fill in the void," he said.
"In the 2014 Asian Games, our men's team comprising Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Li Hu, Chen Feng and Clarence Chew pushed China to the deciding game in the group stage of the team event.
"In the recent SEA games, the men's team comprising Gao Ning, Li Hu, Yang Zi, Chen Feng and Clarence Chew swept all the gold medals on offer."