SINGAPORE — For over a decade, Li Jiawei was the face of Singapore table tennis, as the national paddler smashed her way to a number of historic achievements.
These included winning two team medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and a first-ever world championships team title in 2010 after a stunning victory over China.
While studies and family took centre stage after her retirement in 2012, Li is now ready to make a return to local table tennis. The 35-year-old has teamed up with the Chinese Swimming Club (CSC) to start the CSC – Jiawei Table Tennis Academy (JTA), which will launch officially on July 1.
In an interview with TODAY, Li, who is based in Beijing with her seven-year-old son Tianrui, said that she had been considering a return to Singapore to set up a table tennis school. The collaboration with the CSC then came about after she was approached by the club.
Her academy will focus on grooming and developing young children.
“I came to Singapore at 13; the Singapore Table Tennis Association and Singapore groomed me for so many years. I feel I need to do something to pay back what they’ve done for me,” she said.
“I hope to groom and develop talented children to make them better and reach a higher standard, and groom more local players for Singapore.”
Li will follow in the footsteps of former Olympians like swimmer Tao Li and Li’s former team-mate, Wang Yuegu, who went on to start their own academies after their retirements from competitive sports.
However, unlike the duo, Li will not be an academy coach. She will head the academy as its chief executive officer, and commute between Beijing and Singapore.
“Being CEO doesn’t mean I’m not concerned with training,” she said. “I have coaches but I have to work together with them to develop good players.
“It’s not about just putting my name and not caring. With my abilities and standard, and help from people, I think we can groom some good players. CEO or coach is just a title, but as long as the child is a member of my school, I will be responsible and lead them.”
A product of the Republic’s foreign sports talent scheme, Beijing-born Li had trained at the famous Beijing Shichahai Sports School before she relocated to Singapore in 1995 and obtained her citizenship at 18.
The former world No 3 was a key member of the women’s team up until her retirement in 2012.
Aside from her triumphs at the Olympic Games and world championships, she also found success at the SEA and Commonwealth Games, World Cups, Asian Championships, and International Table Tennis Federation world tour.
While Singapore table tennis continues to rely heavily on foreign talents to achieve international success, Li is hopeful that her academy will groom local players for future national teams.
She added: “Nothing is impossible, but to develop a good player, you need the player to be hardworking, parents have to be supportive, and there are many other areas to work on.
“Whatever results I achieved were a result of the opportunities Singapore gave me.
“I want to help Singapore and see them standing on the world stage.”