Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Olympics: Li Jiawei's starring role for Singapore

LONDON: Flashing a thumbs-up sign and a hint of a smile, Li Jiawei on Tuesday muttered: "This is the perfect birthday present."

Indeed, if this turns out to be her Olympics swansong, then she certainly chose a good time.
With Singapore's national women's table tennis team needing a lift following Sunday's hugely disappointing semi-final defeat to Japan, Li emerged from her bit-part role to spearhead Singapore to victory over South Korea to secure the women's team bronze medal at the London Olympics and give her country and herself an early birthday present - she turns 31 on National Day.

The four-time Olympian had defeated Seok Ha Jung 3-1 in the second singles to give Singapore a 2-0 lead, after world No 8 Feng Tianwei had beaten Kim Kyung Ah 3-1 in the first singles.
With hardly a moment's rest, Li then returned to partner Wang Yuegu to beat Seok and Dang Ye Seo 3-1 in the doubles' match to secure the bronze.

It was Singapore's second medal at the London Games, after Feng's women's singles bronze, and it puts the Republic 60th in the medal standings for now, above the likes of Argentina, Turkey and Puerto Rico at press time.

Li, who equalled swimmer Joscelin Yeo's record of four Olympic appearances, said this has been her most challenging Olympiad as she is feeling the mental and physical toll.

"It's been a really significant and meaningful Olympics for me," said the four-time Sportswoman of the Year, who made her debut at the 2000 Sydney Games.

"Last week, I had difficulty walking properly and, last Wednesday, the team doctor took a decision and injected me with painkillers to draw out the excess fluid (from my knee)," she said.

"That's why after resting the next day, I went straight into competition on the 3rd (August). Of
course, there was discomfort in my knee but at least it was all worth it."

"I managed to be very focused today and I would say this is one my best performances."

The world No 15's starring role in Singapore's win - a consolation for Sunday's disappointing 3-0 semi-final loss to second-seeds Japan - was clear for the 20-odd Singapore fans who met the team behind the spectator stands after the match, as they broke into an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday.

Indeed, as Li, shrewdly switched to the second singles match by Singapore's women's team Head Coach Zhou Shusen and Assistant Coach Jing Junhong, dug deep into her vast pool of experience from her 16-year professional career to sweep aside Seok as she rolled back the years in front of some 3,000 spectators at London's ExCel Arena.

"Experience does count and, being in my fourth Olympics, I was able to call upon that knowledge," said Li.

Whether she will compete at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 for a record fifth outing remains to be seen and Li herself was also non-committal.

"I haven't given serious thought about retirement, but I will take a break and let my knee recover because it is an old injury that I have been carrying for a very long time," she said.
"About whether I will play at the 2016 Olympics, we'll have to see how the situation is closer to the date."

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