Hong Kong is in a state of jubilation with the current visit of the 29 Olympic stars from the national team. With all the tickets sold out and the enthusiastic reactions of the public, the event has once again immensely strengthened national identity among the people of Hong Kong.
People always say sports help bring people together, and this is particularly true for Hong Kong, with the visit of mainland Olympian medalists becoming a regular event here since 2000.
The people of Hong Kong have a “double happiness” to celebrate with the national team this time: China ranked second in the gold medal table with 38, and Hong Kong achieved its best-ever result with one gold, two silvers and three bronzes at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Hong Kong athletes’ exceptional performance at the Tokyo Olympics is a result of a long-time mutual support, interaction and collaboration between the mainland and local sports circles. As a matter of fact, such activities have become more frequent after Hong Kong returned to its motherland in 1997, raising the overall standard of local elite athletes. Subsequently, the achievements the local athletes have made in the past 24 years far surpass those of their predecessors in British Hong Kong’s days.
Hong Kong had never been able to win any Olympic medals although it had participated in the events since 1952, until Lee Lai-shan broke the impasse a year before Hong Kong returned to China. She won a gold medal in windsurfing at Atlanta in 1996. Prior to this, the most popular sports heroine Hong Kong people remember is another “golden girl”, Catherine Che Ku-hung, who was crowned singles tenpin bowling champion at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986.
On the contrary, the athletes who compete in international tournaments under the name of “Hong Kong, China” after 1997 are flourishing. For instance, table tennis players Li Ching and Ko Lai-chak paired up to win a silver at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Cyclist star Sarah Lee Wai-sze won a bronze in women’s keirin at the 2012 London Olympics.
Of course, the best result Hong Kong has ever achieved is at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, not only because of the largest number of medals ever won, but also the first gold medal for the special administrative region after a 25-year gold medal drought since 1996. Edgar Cheung Ka-long, a 24-year-old foil fencer, made Hong Kong history with his strong comeback to beat Daniele Garozzo, the defending Olympic champion from Italy, in the final.
From 1998 to 2018, Hong Kong athletes won a total of 37 golds, 69 silvers and 90 bronzes at Asian Games, plus the 110 medals, including 26 gold, won at the East Asian Games in 2009.
Why have athletes in post-handover Hong Kong won more medals than their predecessors? The great support of the central government, the strong determination of the SAR government to reform sports funding and management, as well as a closer interaction and collaboration of sports professionals across the boundary are the major reasons for the immense improvement.
The central government’s support to help uplift the overall standard of local elite sports in Hong Kong can be seen in several ways: exporting budding athletes and outstanding coaches to Hong Kong, the sharing of facilities, and fostering closer interactions in the areas of elite sports training and sports management education.
The above-mentioned table tennis duo, Li Ching and Ko Lai-chak, originally from Guangdong province, represented Hong Kong to compete in international tournaments after fulfilling immigration requirements of the HKSAR government. Another famous mainland-turn-HK table tennis player is Tie Yana, who won two silver medals at the 2006 Asian Games, in the singles and doubles competitions.
The outstanding achievements made by “imported” table tennis players and their presence in the team have in fact inspired many locally born players to improve their skills. As a result, three Hong Kong-born players — Doo Hoi-kem, Lee Ho-ching and Minnie Soo-wai Yam — won a historic bronze medal in the women’s table tennis team event after beating Germany 3-1 in Tokyo 2020. Their coach is Li Ching.
Wang Chen is another mainland-turn-HK badminton player from Shanghai. She once reached the No 1 world ranking and is a three-time badminton champion in women’s singles at the Asian Badminton Championships. She is now coaching the Hong Kong women’s team.
Shen Jin-kang, the current chief coach of the Hong Kong cycling team, is from Shanghai and he has trained a number of world-class cyclists for Hong Kong such as Wong Kam-po, Sarah Lee Wai-sze, Cheung King-wai and Marco Kwok Ho-ting. The Hong Kong team is now one of the best in Asia.
Edgar Cheung Ka-long, the golden boy at Tokyo 2020, has been trained respectively by Wang Changyong and Zheng Zhaokang , who also came from the mainland.
Local elite athletes have also benefited much from training alongside their mainland world-class counterparts. Needless to say, such interactions are valuable to our budding athletes in the long run. Before 1997, such practices were rarely arranged, but now they have become a regular practice for many sports, thanks to the closer and closer interactions and collaboration between relevant sports associations, professionals and officials of the mainland and HKSAR.
Meanwhile, the HKSAR government’s efforts to develop sports in the community by building more than 1,400 different neighborhood sports facilities in the past 24 years have not only fostered a stronger sports culture, but also laid a good foundation for the development of elite sports.
Furthermore, governmental actions to overhaul duplicated sports resources to facilitate funding, training and career development for elite athletes have also borne fruit. With the subsequent establishment of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Hong Kong Sports Institute Ltd, the Elite Athletes Development Fund, the Hong Kong Athletes Fund and the Commendation Scheme for Elite Athletes, more and more local youngsters are willing to go after their sports dreams.
It is expected with the government’s continued efforts to put more resources to promote sports in primary and secondary schools, plus the central government’s endorsement and support to promote Hong Kong as a center for major international sports events, the prospects for Hong Kong athletes are promising.
I eagerly look forward to seeing more and more athletes like Li Lai-shan and Edgar Cheung Ka-long standing on the Olympic podium with a beaming smile and our national anthem playing in the background.
The author is a member of the Hong Kong Association of Media Veterans and a freelance writer.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS