By Lin Xinyi
She has trained at the Singapore Table Tennis Association’s hall on countless occasions.
But yesterday’s two-hour training session was different for her.
Tan Paey Fern went into the hall at Toa Payoh knowing that it would mark her last session as a national paddler.
The world No 103 has called an end to her playing career, after 18 years with the national team, and has taken on the role of national youth team assistant coach.
“I couldn’t bear to leave,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve developed feelings for this hall – a lot of memories came flowing back. I cherished the session and gave it my everything. It was a good ending.”
Starting today, the 34-year-old will help national youth team head coach Xu Xiangdong prepare a team for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make because I still enjoy playing the sport,” said Tan.
But the multiple-national champion has seen her on-court chances limited since the start of the year.
She played in only three International Table Tennis Federation Pro Tour events this year.
Her biggest regret was missing out on this year’s world team championship, where Singapore finished second.
She had featured regularly in the event over the past few years.
She had always wanted to groom local talent, and was convinced by Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah to become a coach.
Lee said: “This is a great opportunity for her to learn under the very experienced coach Xu. This is part of building our local talent, including coaches in the long run.”
For the past 15 years, Tan has been the most dominant Singapore-born player. And she wants more Singaporean paddlers to prove their mettle.
She said: “It isn’t healthy for the sport. We need more competition among the players. Without that, there is no improvement.”
Through coaching, she hopes to make an impact on young paddlers. “It’s a fresh challenge,” she said. “I hope to impart what I’ve learnt and experienced to them.”
When asked what was the highlight of her playing career, Tan singled out her 2004 Athens Olympics appearance. Then, she and doubles partner Zhang Xueling finished in the top 16.
Although they did not return with a medal, that experience was sweeter than podium finishes at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and South-east Asia Games.
“To qualify for the Olympics wasn’t easy as we had to compete with the top teams from Asia,” she said. “Often, I think about that moment.”
Tan Paey Fern’s career highlights
1991: First SEA Games medal (team bronze)
1999: Wins first of five consecutive SEA Games golds (team)
2002: Commonwealth Games (team gold, singles bronze, doubles bronze)
2004: Olympic Games (doubles top 16)
2005: ITTF Pro Tour Korea Open (doubles gold)
2006: Commonwealth Games (team gold, doubles silver, mixed doubles bronze), Asian Games (team silver)
2007: Commonwealth Championships (team gold)