Singapore table tennis player Zhou Jingyi, 19, joins Izaac Quek and Zeng Jian in qualifying for Olympics


To focus on table tennis full-time, Zhou Jingyi tweaked her academic path after Secondary 2. - ST

SINGAPORE: Teenager Zhou Jingyi recorded another significant milestone in her steady rise as the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) confirmed her qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics on Wednesday (June 12).

Based on the latest ITTF rankings, she is 63rd in the Race to Paris and earned her spot as the top Asian player who has yet to qualify.

This means the 19-year-old Singaporean has become the youngest local-born female table tennis player to qualify for the Olympics after Tan Paey Fern became the first to do so for Athens 2004 aged 30.

Zhou, who is in Slovenia for the WTT Star Contender Ljubljana, said: “Over the past year, we have travelled extensively around the world preparing for the Olympics.

“It was both physically and mentally exhausting, especially with an injury. However, I was able to improve significantly, thanks to the many competition opportunities. Qualifying for the Olympics is incredibly meaningful to me, as it has been my goal since Day One.”

The Singapore Sports School (SSP) alumna, who started playing the sport when she was five, showed her potential from a young age.

At 12, she became the first Singaporean to win at the ITTF World Hopes Week and Challenge in Luxembourg in 2017.

A year later, she rose to fifth in the ITTF Under-15 girls’ world ranking to become the youngest Singaporean to break into the top five.

The right-hander, who plays with a shakehand grip, continued to win at the junior and cadet level before winning the WTT Youth Contender Szombathely Under-17 girls’ singles gold in 2021 and getting promoted to the senior national team in January 2022.

Outside of sport, she tweaked her academic path after Secondary 2 by switching from the SSP’s International Baccalaureate programme to its polytechnic through-train scheme. After graduating from SSP in 2021, she put her polytechnic enrolment on hold to focus on table tennis full-time.

While she has picked up several knee injuries following frequent competition in the last few years, she has also earned her reward as she is set to become the third Singaporean table tennis player to make her Olympic debut alongside Izaac Quek, 18, and Zeng Jian, 27, who confirmed their spots in a qualifying tournament in May.

Zhou said: “My mindset for the Olympics is to focus on each match and gain experience and exposure on this unique stage. I intend to approach my matches with the same mentality as any other competition and to perform to the best of my abilities.”

National women’s coach Jing Junhong hailed her young charge who took less than three years since her decision to play full-time to realise her Olympic aspiration.

She said: “We are proud of her as we celebrate with her a moment many athletes dream of.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey for the team as we toured the world trying to get enough ranking points, especially with her knee injury during this last stretch. It was extremely challenging but I’m sure she feels it is all worth it now.

“More important than the qualification would be the lessons she has learnt from the ups and downs during this journey at a young age, which I believe will help her grow as a person and as a player.”

Meanwhile, national men’s singles player Koen Pang could also join his teammates at the Olympics based on the world ranking on June 18.

Seventeen other Singaporean athletes have booked their Paris 2024 spots.

They are Shanti Pereira (athletics), Loh Kean Yew, Yeo Jia Min, Terry Hee, Jessica Tan, (badminton), Stephenie Chen (canoeing), Caroline Chew (equestrian), Amita Berthier, Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman (fencing), Aisyah Saiyidah (rowing), Maximilian Maeder, Ryan Lo (sailing), Jonathan Tan, Quah Ting Wen, Quah Jing Wen, Letitia Sim and Levenia Sim (swimming). - The Straits Times/ANN

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