Table tennis head coaches replaced in shake-up

Singapore's most successful Olympic sport has undergone a major coaching shake-up with less than a year to go before next year's Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In a statement yesterday, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) said national women's table tennis head coach Jing Junhong, who has been at the helm since 2012, has been replaced by her deputy Liu Jiayi.

In another shock, men's team head coach Yang Chuanning was sacked. Assistant coaches Wang Xiang and Zhu Jiang will take interim charge while the association searches for Yang's replacement.

In the statement, STTA president Ellen Lee said: "The changes in the men's and women's teams come at a critical juncture as the STTA works towards the Rio Olympics 2016. We hope that the players and the coaches will rally around each other for the good of the country."

Jing, a former national paddler, will now oversee the STTA's youth programmes in her new role as chief coach (youth development).

Her redeployment comes amid a mixed year for the women's team.

At June's SEA Games, favourites Singapore failed to bag the women's singles title, with world No. 7 Feng Tianwei and youngster Isabelle Li crashing out in the group stage.

Last Saturday, Feng was knocked out by Germany's Petrissa Solja in the Women's World Cup round of 16. Solja ranked 20 places below Feng at the time of their clash.

The disappointments were interspersed by Feng's Asian Cup triumph in March and her singles bronze in the Asian Table Tennis Championships last month.

Explaining the decision to replace Jing, the STTA said: "A week before the Polish Open, Feng and Yu (Mengyu) had requested a change in the women's team coach to help them improve their game.

"The STTA heard their requests and had agreed to evaluate the situation seriously."

The Straits Times understands that the women paddlers felt they were not improving under Jing ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Also, with the world governing body, International Table Tennis Federation, introducing bigger balls in July last year to slow down the game, it is believed the players felt they needed more guidance from their coach on how to adapt and also wanted more tactical advice from her during matches.

Some of the men's players are also believed to be disappointed that they did not receive more feedback and guidance from Yang.

Jing's relationship with some of her players reached a nadir in Poland, where top seeds Feng and Yu lost in the doubles final late last month. After the doubles loss, Yu told The Straits Times that Jing's insistence on coaching her for her last-16 singles match against world No. 2 Liu Shiwen, which took place a day earlier, had affected her. Yu had been coached by Hao Anlin in the singles.

In STTA's investigation, it said that Jing, who admitted her mistake, was served a verbal reprimand. Yu, who STTA said "showed no remorse", was served a warning letter "for being disrespectful and for causing embarrassment to Singapore and the STTA".

As for Yang, the STTA said he was sacked after "extensive consultation with the players of the men's team".

This article was first published on November 6, 2015.
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