A 200-strong crowd, armed with clappers and flags, home-made placards and gifts of plush toys, turned up at Changi Airport yesterday afternoon.
And although the Singapore women’s table tennis team returned home empty-handed from the Olympics for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games, their loyal fans remain supportive of their endeavours.
Beverly Ang, 16, a Secondary 4 St Joseph’s Convent student, who is in her school’s table tennis team, said: “You can see who the real fans are. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, if they have a medal or not. We will support them because they have motivated me to not give up and work hard.”
Dunman High School student Jostlyn Yeo, 18, added: “Just because they didn’t win or they are not Joseph Schooling, it doesn’t mean we won’t support them. We celebrate their fighting spirit too.”
Their devotion lifted the spirits of Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan. The national paddlers’ tears in Rio turned into smiles as they walked into the arrival hall to a rousing reception.
Fans hollered, pushed and squeezed as they tried to get a glimpse of the trio, who in turn stayed behind to patiently take photographs and sign autographs for them.
Feng, 29, expressed her appreciation for the supporters.
She said: “I didn’t immediately recover from that (loss).
“But when I arrived and saw so many people who came to support us, who didn’t stop supporting us just because we did not win a medal, I feel encouraged.”
The Republic’s top paddler is still reeling from the team’s 1-3 loss to Japan in the bronze-medal match on Tuesday, a result which ended their Rio campaign with no medals to show, after the 2008 and 2012 Games yielded a total of one silver and two bronzes.
Feng and Yu also bowed out in the quarter-finals of the women’s singles competition.
The national women’s team, with two debutantes – Yu, 27, and Zhou, 22 – in place of the retired Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei, struggled, but Yu said: “In the end, we have some regrets, but in whatever you do, it will not be perfect. I think we have all performed well.”
As Feng and her team-mates regroup after the disappointment and prepare for the Oct 7-9 Women’s World Cup in Philadelphia, she is already targeting a shot at redemption at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
With the possible addition of a mixed doubles event in four years’ time, Feng, who will be 33 then, sees an extra opportunity to stand on the podium again.
The holder of an Olympic silver and two bronzes said: “This is a new goal and a direction I can develop towards. I hope to win a medal at the 2020 Olympic Games.”
For now, Feng will be going for her routine injections to treat her chronic knee pain caused by torn cartilage in both joints, as well as a comforting steamboat dinner. She joked: “I’ve starved for a month already. I miss the food here.”
This article was first published on August 20, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.