Singapore’s table tennis teams for this year’s Olympic Games will rely on a mixture of youth and experience as they hunt down the medals in Rio.
World number four Feng Tianwei of Singapore certainly brings the experience, and the 29-year-old has made it clear her ambition is to earn the gold medal at this year’s Games.
To do so, she will almost certainly need to beat China’s defending women’s singles champion Li Xiaoxia – something she hasn’t been able to pull off in four previous encounters.
But Feng retains the self-belief she can get the job done this time around.
“I’m slated to meet Li Xiaoxia in the semi-finals if everything goes to plan and, yes, I have the confidence to face her,” she said.
“We are all gradually hitting form and, for me, it is a matter of adjustments to tactics, as well as physical and mental aspects.
“As for the team, I believe in them. I want us to be united, focus on the process, do our best and have no regrets.
“If we can do all these, I believe good results will follow.”
Feng already boasts three Olympic medals, making her Singapore’s most successful Olympic athlete.
And after overcoming shoulder and knee injuries in the lead-up to Rio, she has earned a second seeding for the tournament.
“Tianwei is the stronger bet in the women’s singles because she is the only member of the women’s team to have experience competing at the Olympics and she is mentally strong,” said national women’s table tennis coach Chen Zhibin.
“Being the second seed in the women’s singles is an advantage, but we also hope for the luck of the draw to avoid those whose style she finds difficult to play against, such as southpaws and choppers.
“But, that said, she did face such players at London 2012 and adjusted her game superbly to overcome those obstacles, which is why I feel she is our best medal prospect.
“If she can clinch an individual medal, that would greatly boost the team’s morale and allow less experienced teammates Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan to loosen up and play better.
“Their lack of experience could mean they may be more afraid to make mistakes during matches, but their results are getting better and that’s very encouraging.
“We did not have the luxury of time to work on new technique and tactics, so it was a matter of enhancing their existing skill sets, and find sparring partners to simulate problematic opponents during our recent three-week centralised training in South Korea.”
Feng’s team-mates Yu and Chou may be rookies, but a series of promising results have resulted in Singapore being seeded fourth overall, behind only China, Japan and Germany.
At London 2012, Singapore returned two bronze medals, via Feng and the women’s team, but Singapore Table Tennis Association President Ellen Lee knows a repeat of that achievement could prove tricky with so much inexperience in the Singapore side.
“The only veteran for this particular team is actually Feng Tianwei from the women’s team and Gao Ning from the men’s team. So to say that they must step up from the last two medals that they won from the last time would be putting undue pressure on them. It will also be (putting) undue pressure on the three others who are going as well,” Lee said recently.
All eyes will certainly be on Feng – Singapore’s best hope of a medal – and a player who knows what it takes to be successful in the Olympic cauldron.
“For my first in 2008, I went in not knowing what to expect. I was so nervous my arms and legs were trembling,” she recalled.
“In my second Olympics, it was tough because I knew what all the difficulties would be.
“I guess it gets more and more difficult, but I hope I can enjoy my third Olympics.
“Under normal circumstances, this will not be my last Olympics.”
Singapore will be competing in three events in Rio – the men’s and women’s singles, as well as the women’s team event.