HK Olympic Committee Secretary General
So the Olympics is under starter’s orders. But it’s being held thousands of miles away from here and Hong Kong hasn’t really got much of a chance at scooping any gold medals. So we shouldn’t really be too interested from a local perspective then, right? Wrong, if you listen to Pang Chung. The Honorary Secretary General of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong says he has a ‘good feeling’ about success in more than just one event.
Chung comes from a colourful athletics background. He was an elite track and field athlete in the 1950s and 60s, a former holder of high and triple jump records in Hong Kong. He was twice given the Hong Kong Best Athlete of the Year award – in 1960 and 1970 – and he also represented the territory in the 1962 and 1966 Asian Games. So when he talks about success, he’s on good ground. “We did well in the Asian Games,” he tells Time Out. “We can hold our own against athletes from the powerhouses of China, Korea and Japan. But in the Olympics our athletes are going against 205 countries – not just 40. The sheer number we’re up against diminishes our chances. But I have a good feeling about cycling, table tennis and badminton. It depends on who is on form and whether athletes from other countries mess up. The rankings in qualification don’t mean anything when you’re fighting on the day.”
Chung’s life has been dedicated to sport. After hanging up his spikes, he worked for the city’s government in various sport and entertainment-related roles and he has also been Chef de Mission for the Hong Kong delegation at Asian and Commonwealth Games. But his biggest role was surely leading the contingent to the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 – those glorious games where Lee Lai-shan took Hong Kong’s first ever gold in windsurfing. It was an unforgettable moment for our city – and, certainly, for Chung too. He raced to the scene of Shan Shan’s triumph, three hours away from where he had been based in Atlanta, to bask in the golden glory on an offshore platoon as Lai-shan breezed across the winning line. “It was very exciting,” he remembers. “She had effectively won the race two days prior. She crossed the line as a champion. There was yelling and shouting.”
Chung, who was stadium manager for the construction of Hong Kong’s first stadium – Queen Elizabeth – in 1980 as well as for the Hong Kong Coliseum in 1983, climbed up the ranks to take his current spot in the Olympics Committee. “After my athletics career I went to Loughborough University in the UK,” he says, “to attain a coaching licence so that I could coach by the 1984 Olympics. I remember, at school, the principal would take out the cane in the main hall and whack the disobedient students, so I adopted this disciplinarian approach to coaching. Not to that extreme though. But, in this world, people won’t be nice to you if you can’t deliver. As a coach I find that if you’re too nice you’ll be ignored.” With Chung’s tough style and technique, he soon became understudy to the Olympic Committee Secretary General Arnaldo Sales before taking his place by the 1996 Olympics.
So, gold medal under Hong Kong’s belt, fast forward to the 2004 Athens Olympics. We won silver in the table tennis men’s double competition, thanks to Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching. There’s a photograph on Chung’s wall of him with the medallists. But he has a point to make when asked whether China has, since those days, been taking Hong Kong’s best athletes while we’ve been given their secondary sportsmen. Are we China’s B-team? “I don’t think so,” he answers. “It’s kind of a cross-culture. We have about 40 athletes this year and many are trained in China, just like Jamaican runners train in America. Some of these athletes came from China in 2000. But we go with a separate identity. They go to the Olympics to be role models to Hong Kong youngsters.”
So what about the silver medal pair who gave up their Chinese citizenship for Hong Kong passports in 2004, so they could represent the SAR? Chung tells us: “This is politics. The timing was tricky but, from 2000 to 2004, athletes like them were given special permission to compete for us. But after 2004 Hong Kong enforced strict eligibility requirements.”
Politics aside, Chung is now focused on the London games. He’s travelling to the British capital to make sure ‘medical and other general support’ is ready for the athletes when they arrive at Hong Kong’s training camp in Weymouth. And, of course, he’s really there to root for our medal hopefuls just like he did back in 1996. “Hong Kong will work hard to get a gold medal,” he says. So it is possible. We can but hope. Byron Tseng