SEA Games: Time to fete Feng

SEA Games: Time to fete Feng
DEDICATED: Feng Tianwei trains between five and seven hours a day, six days a week.

Feng Tianwei told me last night she trains between five and seven hours from Monday to Saturday most weeks of the year.

It has been that way for so much of her life - hitting that table tennis ball over the net, over and over again, wielding her bat to conjure up evil spin, constantly looking for wicked angles.

It has been relentless, it has helped her own three Olympic medals and be crowned a world champion.

She has beaten the world's best, played on the grandest stages of her sport, and she is now one of 52 members of Singapore sport's Hall of Fame.

There are many here who continue to frown over Feng's success because the Harbin-born star is a graduate of the foreign talent scheme, many still brand the 28-year-old a mercenary. I appreciate her talent, sacrifice and dedication and choose to celebrate her success.

As Singapore's 749 athletes prepare to pull on their gear for battle at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games next month, Feng will be one of the leading lights most of the members of our home contingent can turn to for inspiration.

And her example reminds everyone what it requires to become one of the world's best.

MASTERY

Devilish serves have been mastered, or are being mastered, she has worked on her feet movement constantly, and strengthened and conditioned herself at the gym and through psychologists on a regular basis.

It is a lonely lifestyle, often times mundane, table tennis stars mostly miss out on the glitz and glamour commonly associated with elite athletes, but it has not stopped Feng from going through the same routine most weeks of every year.

Her former teammate, Wang Yuegu, also joined the Hall of Fame yesterday. Yip Pin Xiu, a swimmer extraordinaire who stormed to a gold and silver at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, also got the nod and made history.

Yip is the first Paralympian to join the group, but Feng also stands out because she is now the most decorated athlete in the hallowed Hall, after badminton legend Wong Peng Soon.

I watched the 21-year-old fearlessly stare down the pressure that had built up over 48 years and take the tournament by the scruff of the neck and inspire the Singapore women's table tennis team to second place at the 2008 Beijing Games for the country's first medal in the Olympics since Tan Howe Liang's weightlifting silver in 1960 in Rome.

She was the principal assassin when Singapore's female paddlers achieved one of the greatest feats in our sporting history, striking down mighty China in the world team championships in 2010 in Moscow.

She became the first Singaporean since Tan to win an individual Olympic medal when she claimed bronze in the women's singles at the 2012 Games in London, and collected another in the team event.

She will lead a world-class table tennis team into battle at this year' SEA Games and a clean sweep is very likely, especially on home soil.

She has been handsomely rewarded for her feats, but it has hardly dulled her hunger.

Continuously working at her craft, Feng is the world No. 4 who is aiming to win at least a medal for the third successive Olympics next year in Rio.

Even after all these years, she told me she's still in love with her sport.

She hardly ever lashes out, there are no stories of late night carousing and disciplinary issues, Feng's life right now is all about table tennis.

Singaporeans must cheer her on. And many of Singapore's athletes, especially the young dreamers, must copy her example, to have a chance of achieving their goals.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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