Paddlers Yu Mengyu, Clarence Chew at different career stages ahead of Tokyo Olympics

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Singapore's Olympic-bound table tennis players (from left) Lin Ye, Yu Mengyu and Clarence Chew. A fourth paddler, Feng Tianwei, is based in Japan. (PHOTO: Singapore Table Tennis Association)
Singapore's Olympic-bound table tennis players (from left) Lin Ye, Yu Mengyu and Clarence Chew. A fourth paddler, Feng Tianwei, is based in Japan. (PHOTO: Singapore Table Tennis Association)

SINGAPORE — As one Singapore national paddler prepares for likely her Olympic swansong, another is gearing up for his long-awaited Games debut.

Both Yu Mengyu and Clarence Chew have promised to push themselves to the limit at next month's Tokyo Olympics, as the Games-bound table tennis players prepare to head to Japan's Shimada city for acclimatisation training from Sunday (27 June) until 17 July.

The duo will be joined by two other Games-bound women's paddlers Feng Tianwei and Lin Ye, as well as their national head coaches Hao Anlin and Gao Ning. The Singapore Table Tennis Association has sources 14 Japanese sparring partners of varying styles of play to train with the paddlers in Shimada.

Yu, 31, has been troubled by a chronic back injury which has forced her to withdraw from tournament whenever it flares up. Even so, she has registered promising results this year, as she made her competitive return after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, the world No. 47 reached the semi-finals of the WTT Contender Doha tournament, beating world No. 11 Miu Hirano along the way. Yet, she had to withdraw from her next tournament a week later, as her injury flared up.

Understandably, she is considering to end her gruelling playing career after the Tokyo Games.

"This is something I will need to think of after Tokyo. If the national team still need me, I will give it my all, but I'm also considering contributing in other roles," she said during an online media conference on Wednesday (23 June).

"The biggest challenge has been to motivate myself back from injury countless times, and to stay positive. Beating higher-ranked opponents in Doha has given me some confidence, and I hope my teammates' morale will also be boosted by my performances."

Yu had made her long-awaited Olympics debut at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, seven years after she first began winning SEA Games golds for Singapore. She was also part of the Singapore women's table tennis team that shocked China to win the 2010 World Team Championships.

Gearing up for biggest chapter of playing career

While Yu is contemplating retirement, Chew is gearing up for the biggest chapter of his table tennis playing career, as he is set to become the first Singapore-born paddler to feature in the men's singles competition at the Olympics.

The 26-year-old first came into prominence when he represented Singapore at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in the Republic in 2010. Inspired to play the sport after watching the national women's paddlers win a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games - Singapore's first medal after a 48-year wait - Chew has been steadfast in his ambition to play in the Olympics one day.

"Watching the women's team playing their hearts out for the country made me want to represent Singapore in major Games," he said during the online media conference.

There were sacrifices along the way too. After graduating from the Singapore Sports School, Chew had to juggle his time among his budding playing career, his sports and leisure management diploma course at Republic Polytechnic, as well as national service (NS).

Despite enrolling for the polytechnic course in 2013, he has yet to graduate, after deferments to train for the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games and then NS in 2017.

"My classmates now are a lot younger than me," the world No. 186 quipped.

As he continues to juggle between classes and training, Chew is slowly regaining the heights of his playing achievements after making his return after completing his NS in 2019. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he had beaten Hong Kong's world No. 20 Wong Chun Ting at the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament.

"Of course there are times when I feel exhausted, but I have never thought about quitting," he said.

"This is a path I chose because of my love for table tennis. I will go all out to win matches and be an inspiration to others, just like how those before me have inspired me."

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