Zhou Ying

Zhou Ying

By TAN YI HUI

Ch 8 actress Zhou Ying could’ve been an Olympic gymnast. The China actress reveals her unlikely sporting past, how she copes with her inaugural swimsuit shoot and a crush she still harbours for a fellow countryman (not so fast, Dai Yangtian, it’s not you).

Here’s a thought: If Feng Tianwei & Co. looked a little like fellow (ex) countrywoman Zhou Ying, perhaps, just perhaps, table tennis might be as glamorous as its bigger namesake, tennis. But idle theories aside, Zhou Ying, in a way, owes her showbiz break here to our women national paddlers. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu put up a valiant fight in a historic face-off against China and took home the silver — Singapore’s first post-independence Olympic medal (our only other Olympic medal was a silver in weightlifting in the 1960 Rome games). Explains the Shanghai-born actress: “I was here for Star Search in 2007, but it was not until December of 2008, after the Olympics, that I got the call to come back and play a table tennis whiz in my first Ch 8 drama Table of Glory. The sport was hot then due to the performance of your team.” (Remember folks, it’s our team.)

This petite and bubbly 27-year-old lass is now back in the game, so to speak, playing cover girl for our Olympics issue. In fact, Zhou Ying was once selected for China’s gymnastics talent programme. Her brother was a state swimmer in Shanghai; and she could have hooked up with Chinese superstar hurdler Liu Xiang, but more on that later. Right now, though, the Olympics in London is probably the last thing on her mind. She’s too busy navigating a photo shoot fraught with strenuous posing. Ever tried star-jumping and balancing in four-inch heels on a steel beam while wearing a dress made out of ping pong balls?

Zhou Ying

Yes, some days, it’s even tougher being a model than an athlete, we reckon. But she takes it all in stride with the steely focus of a sprinter barrelling towards the finish line. “Let’s do this,” she says in Mandarin through gritted teeth — more to herself than our crew — as she prepares to dive into yet another round of swimsuit shots — her first time on camera in sexy swimwear. You might wonder if this tough cookie were a true-blue sportswoman. Truth is, she’s more sporting than sporty. “When I found out about your shoot two weeks ago, I asked my personal trainer to let me lift some weights and build muscles,” she offers sheepishly, mock-flexing barely-there biceps. “At the very most I’d swim and do yoga once a week. They’re counted as slow activities, right? Even my personal trainer says I’m lazy!” At least she’s no slouch when it comes to hamming it up for the camera. Imagine having to prance around and jump with an infected left toe (thanks to a broken nail) coupled with a back injury she sustained from her high school days, and you have to applaud her for the Herculean effort. Also, there’s that sharp eloquence, characteristic of her Shanghainese background, that’s anything but slow. Ask her about the thorny issue of foreign-born athletes representing Singapore, and she dodges it with the deftness of an Olympic fencer. “It doesn’t matter if the athlete was born in another country. What matters is that an individual is willing to sacrifice her time and effort for the glory of her adoptive country,” she says. So who will she be rooting for if, let’s say, Team Singapore were to take on Team China? “It depends on where I’m watching the match,” she offers. “If I’m in China, I’ll root for China; if I’m watching the match here, I’m definitely supporting Singapore. Singapore, after all, is my second home.” Well played, Madame, well played.

For the full cover story, read this week's issue of 8 DAYS (#1137).