Hanging prominently in Clarence Chew’s living room is a table tennis bat which he finds too precious to use.
Yet, it has played a key role in helping the national paddler achieve his Olympic dream.
The autographed bat was a gift in 2004 from former International Table Tennis Federation president Xu Yinsheng, who also coached Chew’s mother Chen Shuping when she played for China’s national team in the 1970s.
On it, Xu wrote a motivational message in Chinese: “Work hard in your table tennis and play in the Olympics some day.”
Seventeen years later, Chew, now 25, made it come true.
In March, he became the first Singapore-born paddler to qualify for the Olympic men’s singles event by defeating fellow Singaporean Koen Pang 4-0 in the South-east Asian final of the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Qatar.
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Reminiscing about the gift at a virtual press conference by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday, Chew said: “Xu Yinsheng is a well known and respected figure in the table tennis world.
”I was fortunate to have met him years ago, but I have not yet had the chance to catch up with him.
”If he knew the news of my qualification, I am sure he would congratulate my mother and I and wish me all the best.”
The bat may not be able to help the southpaw send stinging smashes, but the words on it have kept him focused on his dream, following every victory or defeat.
Chew, who is ranked world No. 186, added: “The bat has always been placed in a prominent place in my living room.
”From time to time, I will walk past and it reminds me of why I started my journey and help motivate me to achieve my goal.”
While the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a lack of international competitions, Chew has been preparing for the July 23-Aug 8 Olympics in Tokyo by playing against sparring partners with varying styles.
”My main objective would be to enjoy every moment on court, make Singapore proud and not leave with any regrets after all the sacrifices I made in order to qualify,” he said.
STTA president Ellen Lee hopes Chew’s feat will “help the younger generation dream bigger and bigger”.
”I urge Singaporeans to believe in our athletes to be able to make waves on the world stage,” she said.
Chew will be able to draw on the vast experience of his coach Gao Ning, a three-time Olympian.
Gao told TNP that Chew just has to do his best, regardless of his opponents’ ranking and pedigree.
”He needs to relax and not be nervous once he enters the court. He has to keep his cool and give his best at every game,” Gao added in Mandarin.
Chew has a ready remedy to steady his nerves. He told TNP that he always carries along a pack of mint candy for his throat and pops one in his mouth before matches.
”It has a cooling and soothing effect to calm my nerves,” added the Singapore Sports School alumnus, who will be joined in Tokyo by women paddlers Lin Ye, Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu.
World No. 47 Yu, who reached the semi-finals at the WTT Contender Doha in March, said she received a confidence booster going into the Games.
”The competitors I faced in Doha were all ranked better than me and playing with them really improved my confidence,” the 31-year-old said, referring to her victories over the likes of Japan’s world No. 12 Miu Hirano and Thailand’s 40th-ranked Suthasini Sawettabut.
With safety protocols in place, the paddlers will set off on Sunday for Shimada, where they will finalise their preparations before their matches begin in a month’s time.