At the end of a day filled with shock and tears, it was left to Singaporean warhorse Gao Ning to salvage some home pride by winning the South-east Asia (SEA) Games men's singles table tennis gold last night.
The 32-year-old made light work of Filipino Richard Gonzalez, beating the 44-year-old army corporal 4-1 (11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-3) to bag Singapore's third gold in the sport, and give the 1,000 fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium something to cheer about.
Gonzalez, silver medallist in Manila 2005 and bronze winner in Korat 2007, Vientiane 2009 and Naypyidaw 2013, gave his all with unorthodox serves and a variety of shots, but Gao was too experienced to be unsettled.
"I really wanted to deliver for my fellow Singaporeans," said Gao.
"By the time my match took place, I already knew I was the only Singaporean paddler who could win gold today and I didn't want to disappoint.
"I was ready for a tough fight, even for the match to go the full seven games, but I was determined to keep attacking rather than take a conservative approach."
Earlier in the morning, Team Singapore were left reeling after world No. 4 Feng Tianwei failed to make it past the women's singles group stages.
That left their quest for a clean sweep of all seven golds in table tennis in tatters.
Hours later, 19-year-old Clarence Chew lost 4-3 to Gonzalez in the men's singles semi-finals, despite holding a 3-1 lead. While he won many hearts with his bravery, persevering despite injuring his favoured left arm, Chew left the arena in tears after coming so close to making the final.
"I tried my best, and was too rushed to finish off the match when I was leading 3-1," he said.
"But it's not easy playing against defensive players, and it aggravated my injury.
"I feel I have improved from two years ago, even though it is another bronze this time. I can still play better, especially against defensive players."
Singapore men's coach Yang Chuanning felt that Thailand are now a genuine threat to the Republic's dominance in ASEAN competitions.
He said: "Our players have to learn how to handle the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd.
"This is a good lesson on how to deal with adversity - when we are on the back foot, when our opponents don't make any mistakes, when we lose a game or two, what should we do?
"This is something we can still improve on.
"Thailand have prepared well and youngsters like Padasak (Tamviriyachakul, 19) and Suthasini (Sawettabut, 20) will challenge us at future SEA Games.
"Today's defeats will serve as a timely warning that we must be prepared for every scenario, and I can assure you that we will bounce back in both the men's and women's team events."
The competition continues with the men's and women's team event at the same venue tomorrow.
This article was first published on June 5, 2015.
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