Table tennis player Clarence Chew has his family's support

Table tennis player Clarence Chew has his family's support
Paddler Clarence Chew (left) and his mother Chen Shuping, who used to represent China in table tennis. Chen and her husband Chew Soo Sheng taught Clarence how to play the sport when he was very young.

There is a shelf in Clarence Chew's room in the family's Upper Bukit Timah home which is filled with table tennis books.

Sheepishly, the 19-year-old Singapore national paddler says he is not the table tennis bookworm, but his dad Chew Soo Sheng. Nearly the whole family loves table tennis.

Dad is a former national player and was once chief executive officer of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA). Mum is Chen Shuping, who was drafted into the China national team in 1979 at just 16.

While second child Carissa, 17, is more interested in the arts, the youngest, 11-year-old Cassandra, is in the STTA's youth development squad.

They will all be at the Singapore Indoor Stadium rousing the national paddlers and Clarence in their bid for gold at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games in June.

BLESSING

Clarence is the only southpaw in the family, which is a blessing, said dad during a recent video shoot commissioned by STTA.

Speaking to The New Paper, Chew said: "When we found out that Clarence was left-handed, we thought it was such a blessing, because left-handers are usually 0.015 seconds faster than right-handers."

Clarence's mother left the China national team after 18 months, travelled to Hong Kong and then coached South Africa, before landing in Singapore to be a club coach, and soon met her future husband.

Clarence, an alumnus of the Singapore Sports School, started playing table tennis as a form of exercise.

He liked it, and encouragement came in the form of an autographed bat signed by former International Table Tennis Federation president Xu Yinsheng, who was his mother's coach in the Chinese national team.

He met the Chews in 2004 and gave Clarence a bat. On it, he wrote, "Work hard in your table tennis and play in the Olympics some day."

In 2010, the youngster represented Singapore at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games here - he exited the boys' singles competition in the second round - and the Olympics remains his biggest target.

The SEA Games is a stepping stone towards realising his dream, and Clarence said the experience of the 2010 event will help him.

CHEERING

"There were a lot of supporters in the Indoor Stadium back then, but I could still hear my parents' cheering through the noise. "That somehow kept me calm during my matches."

Clarence joined the national B team with fellow Youth Olympian Isabelle Li the following year, and shortly after became a full national team member.

He was part of the outfit that won team golds at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and last year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The World Table Tennis Championships, which starts on Sunday in China, and the SEA Games will be the world No. 191's main assignments this year.

Clarence has come a long way, but bigger hurdles lay ahead and mum said: "I am very proud of his progress.

"I was at a world-class level during my playing days, but the Chinese team then was already very competitive, and a lot of luck was needed in order for a paddler to succeed.

"Clarence has the opportunity to do what I couldn't do and I'm very happy."

Clarence's left is right

Clarence, who is the only left-hander in his family of five, was initially taught to hold the table tennis bat with his right hand.

However, his parents decided to groom him as a southpaw after noticing that he would naturally pass the bat to his left hand.

He started training at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's zone training centre at Toa Payoh at age 5, and progressed through the youth development squad, the national B team, and now the main national team.

He may seem like a quiet and reserved person, but his youngest sister Cassandra says Clarence, who has a collection of 15 Gundam figures, can be "quite a funny guy" if you're close to him.

Clarence's sisters sometimes get comments from their friends, like "My classmate wants to be kor kor's (elder brother's) wife" and "your kor kor is very handsome".

sayheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 22, 2015.
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