Chen books ticket to Rio

Singapore paddler Chen Feng, 22, turned the tables on his higher-ranked team-mates yesterday when he scored a surprise triumph in stage one of the ongoing Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Hong Kong.

Chen, ranked 149th in the world, beat team-mate and world No. 51 Li Hu 11-8, 11-8, 6-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4 in the South-east Asia men's final to book his spot in August's Olympics.

In the semi-final, the unfancied Chen had stunned Singapore's top-ranked male paddler, world No. 27 Gao Ning, 11-2, 11-4, 11-7, 11-5.

Of Singapore's four men's players, only world No. 160 Yang Zi is ranked lower than Chen.

"I'm really happy. From the start I always took it game by game. This is completely unexpected," said Chen. "I think I did well mentally. I was focused and didn't let the occasion affect my technique.

"I'll definitely train even harder from now till the Olympics."

Gao said of his defeat: "I didn't play well and he was familiar with my style."

Chen is joined by Feng Tianwei who, as expected, won the South-east Asia women's singles, the world No. 7 beating team-mate and world No. 23 Yu Mengyu, 11-5, 11-5, 11-4, 11-8 in the final.

From now till August, Feng said training will be geared towards familiarising herself with her likely opponents at the Olympics.

"I'm definitely relieved and happy to have qualified for Rio. It's all about training hard and staying healthy from now on," she said.

"As long as we prepare well, we're definitely hopeful of a medal."

The qualifying tournament is divided into two stages - regional followed by continental-wide.

The men's and women's champions of the five regional tournaments have qualified for Rio.

The continental-wide stage, where six men's and six women's singles spots are up for grabs, begins today.

Going by world rankings, Yu and Gao would be representing Singapore in this segment. But team manager Ong Xiaoxian said the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) has decided not to field anyone in this phase.

She said: "Mengyu will be playing in the Poland Open next week and Gao Ning has just recovered from injury. Considering the needs of the team, the STTA has decided not to field anyone for the second stage."

The Republic's paddlers can still qualify by finishing among the top 22 players in the International Table Tennis Federation's Olympic singles ranking by next month.

Gao is currently 20th on the list, while Yu is 14th.

Their rankings are helped by the fact that each National Olympic Committee (NOC) can field only two players in the singles event.

NOCs with two qualified singles athletes will qualify for the team event.

This article was first published on April 15, 2016.
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