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Olympic Dream Comes True For Clarence

2021 Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament

With the Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled to take place in less than four months, athletes are hungry for opportunities to qualify for the world’s largest sport event. From 18 to 20 March 2021, paddlers from four regions of Asia – Central, East Asia, South and Southeast – battled it out at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena in Doha, Qatar, for a chance to compete at the Olympics.

The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament organised by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) offered four Olympic places in each of the Men’s and Women’s Singles, which meant that only one berth was available for a Southeast Asian (SEA) male.

Seven competitors representing Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore made up the SEA pool. The Republic’s top two paddlers, Clarence Chew Zhe Yu and Koen Pang Yew En, topped their respective groups to progress into the Semi-Finals which they once again cleared with relative ease to set up an all-Singapore final.

The clash between Clarence and Koen was not their first at a major meet. The last time both players went head-to-head was at the Philippines 2019 SEA Games where the younger Koen defeated Clarence to claim the Men's Singles title.

“There was a certain anxiety and nervousness of not knowing what to expect before going there as I had not played any tournaments for almost a year. While I was happy to reach the final, I knew it would be a tough match against Koen as we are teammates and know each other's playing style well. So I made sure to remain focused on sticking to my game plan instead of thinking about the final results; to enjoy every moment on court and leave no regrets,” said Clarence.

After a 35-minute duel on 20 March 2021, the tables were turned. In just four sets (11-7, 11-7, 15-13, 11-4), Clarence emerged the winner and made history by becoming the first Singapore-born table tennis player to qualify for the Olympics.

“This definitely feels like a dream come true, and I’m glad that all the sacrifices and hard work has finally paid off. I’m also grateful for all the support given to me by Singapore Sports School and Singapore Table Tennis Association,” said the post-secondary student-athlete on Sports School’s customised Diploma in Sports and Leisure Management (DSLM) programme.

Close to 13 years ago, the dream of competing at the Olympics was planted in 12-year-old Clarence when he watched the Beijing 2008 Games. That dream took root two years later when he was selected to represent Singapore at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games on homeground, allowing him to experience the excitement and emotions of being at a major multi-sports event. From that point forward, he was determined to work hard towards the quadrennial sport event.

He faced his fair share of ups and downs, especially when he had to put his sport dreams on hold when he enlisted for National Service at the end of 2017. Keeping up with training became difficult and, at times, he felt that he was getting further from his Olympic target causing him to lose motivation.

“Thankfully I had the support of many such as my family, friends, coaches, STTA and the Sports School. The strong support that I received encouraged me to keep on trying my best and working hard to turn that dream into a reality.” Clarence hopes that his achievement will "inspire younger student-athletes and help them believe that with determination and perseverance, they can one day reach their goals."

Koen, a Sports School alumnus, is currently serving his National Service. The 18-year-old confessed that continuing to train at high level during NS is not easy: “I am very grateful to have the opportunity to play the qualifiers. I normally only get to train on weekends and was able to get three days of training time before flying to Qatar to compete.” Koen, who will be operationally ready in May 2022, has his sights on the Hanoi 2021 SEA Games at the end of the year where he will be defending his Men’s Singles title. “Now, we have a lot of confidence that we are one of the best – if not the best in Southeast Asia – and we will do what it takes to win the gold.”