Unbeaten throughout the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, three gold medals to her credit, when proceedings concluded on Monday 8th August there was one more honour for Singapore’s Feng Tianwei.
She received the David Dixon Award, named after the former honorary secretary of the Commonwealth Games Federation; first presented in 2002 in Manchester, the accolade not only acknowledges performance, also, fair play, and contribution to team success.
Most notably, Feng Tianwei is the first table tennis player to win the award and the first from Singapore.
Overall, since her debut in the quadrennial event in 2010 in New Delhi, Feng Tianwei has now won 13 medals (nine gold, three silver, one bronze); however, in Birmingham there was an added ingredient.
In previous Commonwealth Games, she has lined up alongside players of the same generation; in particular the now retired Yu Mengyu has always been by her side, in Birmingham it was very different.
On Wednesday 31st August, Feng Tianwei will celebrate her 36th birthday, in Birmingham she joined forces with compatriots all at least 10 years her junior; she was very much the guiding hand, the team captain.
Zeng Jian is 25 years old, Wong Xin Ru 20 years of age and Zhou Jingyi still a teenager; she is 17 years old.
Furthermore, did Feng Tianwei not have a point to prove?
Four years earlier, she had been beaten in full distance contests in both the women’s team and women’s singles events by India’s Manika Batra; a player who uses the standard reversed rubber on the forehand but long pimples on the backhand.
The changes in spin and speed produced, implanted doubts in the mind of Feng Tianwei who was unable to find the usual rhythm to her play. In Birmingham she faced an adversary of similar style at the semi-final stage of the women’s singles, Sreeja Akula, also from India.
On this occasion, Feng Tianwei dug deep, by the very narrowest of margins, she prevailed; no lack of skill but above all it was character that one won the match.
In the women’s singles final it was the same; she recovered from a three games to nil deficit to beat Zeng Jian; on paper it was a match Feng Tianwei was predicted to win, she was the top seed, Zeng Jian the no.5 seed.
However, when your opponent is your teammate, your doubles partner and the player with whom you practise day after day, rankings fly out of the window.
Again, mental strength was key, the character displayed by Feng Tianwei, the reason for her success, the reason for gaining an award that elevated her to top spot not only in the table tennis arena but in the whole 2022 Commonwealth Games.