LONDON: The relief was palpable.
National women’s table tennis coach Zhou Shusen was visibly choked, team manager Loy Soo Han pumped his fist backstage, while Team Singapore’s Chef de Mission Jessie Phua missed the entire match after her driver lost his way. Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) President Lee Bee Wah simply lost her appetite during lunch.
But it was clear what Feng Tianwei’s bronze medal meant to Singapore.
On Wednesday, she beat Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa 4-0 (11-9, 11-6, 11-6, 11-5) at London’s ExCel Arena to claim Singapore’s first individual Olympic medal since weightlifter Tan Howe Liang’s silver at the 1960 Rome Games.
It was also only Singapore’s third Olympic medal, the other being the silver won by the women’s table tennis team in Beijing four years ago.
“Both medals hold equal significance to me,” said Feng, who turns 26 on Aug 31.
“Both are Olympic medals and both are won with a lot of hard work. Perhaps this one is a little different because I am a bit mature compared to four years ago.”
Feng’s win seemed a popular one, as the majority of the 3,000-capacity crowd inside London’s ExCel Arena were won over by her tenacity, especially during Tuesday’s semi-final defeat to China’s Ding Ning, where she stretched the world No 1 to six games before losing 4-2.
Several spectators spotted her emerging from the arena’s mixed zone area, where she had spent about 35 minutes fielding interviews from various international, as well as Singapore, media.
Within minutes, she was surrounded by close to 20 fans – including one soldier who was on guard duty there – all of whom wanted to have their photos taken with her.
Deputy Prime Minister and Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) President Teo Chee Hean hopes Feng’s bronze medal will have long-term positive spin-offs on sports in Singapore. Mr Teo, together with President Tony Tan Keng Yam, were present to offer her congratulatory handshakes.
Phua said the result vindicated the SNOC’s decision to hand Feng the honour of being Singapore’s flag bearer at last Friday’s opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.
“If there was only one medal I wanted to bring home, it was by Tianwei. She is everything you want of a sporting ambassador. She’s everything you ask of an athlete,” she said.
Having missed out on a women’s singles medal on the last three Olympiads, national women’s team assistant coach Jing Junhong, who finished fourth at the 2000 Sydney Games, felt it was about time that Singapore’s luck changed.
“Things are so different now, compared (with) 12 years ago,” she said. “I’ve worked with her for the past four years and she won the medal that I couldn’t manage to. I’m really happy for her.”
Feng later admitted that the ease at which she swept aside the left-handed Japanese, the fourth-seed, took her by surprise.
“It was when I was leading 2-0 that I had an idea of what the result might be but I still had to stay focused for every point and get the job done,” she said.
“I’m really happy, although I feel it’s come a little too suddenly. My form wasn’t very good lately, so I didn’t dare to carry too much expectations coming into the London Olympics.
“It was just a relief to win.” –
Channel News Asia