SEA Games Table Tennis: World no. 4 Feng set to rule

SEA Games Table Tennis: World no. 4 Feng set to rule
PROUD: Feng Tianwei is greeted by her mother Li Chunping after returning with the team gold medal from the World Table Tennis Championships in 2010.

Most people are familiar with table tennis star Feng Tianwei's never-say-die spirit.

They also know how close she is to her mother, Li Chunping.

Mum will be cheering her daughter on as she leads the hosts' paddlers on an expected gold-medal charge at the Singapore Indoor Stadium during next month's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

Few know, though, that Feng, the world No. 4, used to be scared of mum as a child.

In a video shoot commissioned by the Singapore Table Tennis Association recently, the 28-year-old said: "We are like friends these days but, when I was young, I used to be scared of her; she was strict and would spank me if I was naughty."

She recalled one incident when she was around 14 and a newcomer in the Harbin provincial team.

"At the time, I wasn't too serious yet, I would just play and not work seriously improve in my game," the three-time Olympic medallist recounted.

"My parents moved and rented a place near my dormitory and training centre to keep an eye on me, which I felt was quite suffocating actually.

"My mother would wake me up just after 6am to train, but it is very, very cold at that time in Harbin and one day I skipped training.

"She banged furiously at my door and punished me after that. "After all these years, I realise that it's not the training that she was so particular about, but the discipline she wanted me to build up."

Li and her late husband Feng Qingzhi were not well to do, and worked two shifts to pay for their only child's training and competition expenses.

Feng's father, a granary worker, died in 2002 when she was 16, after suffering from multiple sclerosis for two years.

"With the province team, we got to go home once a week, but one day, my coach suddenly told me to rush home immediately," she said.

"My father had been very sick for about a week, but my mother did not tell me because she wanted me to focus on training.

"As I was rushing up the stairs, I heard neighbours saying that someone who was rather young was dying soon.

"When I heard that, I felt that my head was going to explode. My mum told me later that he wanted to see me one last time before he died."

Grief-stricken, Feng did not pick up a table tennis bat and train. But, 20 days later, she managed to win the Chinese National Youth Championships and was admitted to the national youth team.

STAGNATE

She made it to China's national B team, but moved to Japan in 2005 after seeing little progress.

In Japan, she was spotted and recruited by former Singapore coach Liu Guodong.

It took a while for Feng to adjust to life here, but the 2010 team world champion and Olympic star is very much home now.

"At first I was not too used to it, the customs are very different here, but I am used to it now," said Feng, who stays with her mother.

"In the past, 'going home' would mean a visit back to China but, these days, that would be coming back to Singapore. When I am overseas for too long these days, I will yearn to come back here.

"I have some Singapore-born friends here who I hang out with and share my feelings with, so I feel that I have integrated well."

sayheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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