Going for gold
Shirley Zhao meets the top Hong Kong athletes who will be mixing it with the best at the biggest sporting event in the world...
Leung Ka-Ming: The fencer
En garde! If there’s any chance of a Hong Kong medal at the games, it’s in fencing. And that’s down to the sheer numbers of competitors from the SAR who are going for gold. In fact, Hong Kong’s 2012 fencing team is the biggest contingent from the sport we have ever sent to an Olympic Games. And one of those hopefuls hoping to be on sharp form is Leung Ka-ming.
Leung, a fencer of 10 years standing, is a man who personifies the attitude of our Olympic athletes. He has nothing to lose so he’s vowed to give it all he’s got. He’s fresh off the back of a top performance in the Olympic Asian qualifier, which took place in April, where he beat two seeds from Iran and Kyrgyzstan and won a bronze, paving a way to the summer games. “I never thought I could perform that well in the qualifier,” he says. “The matches against the two seeds were very difficult but I managed to pull through. So of course I want to go one step further. I think my greatest advantage is that I have nothing to lose. So psychologically I’ll be more relaxed and fearless.”
Leung’s fencing team-mates are Lin Po-heung (ladies’ foil), Yeung Chui-ling (ladies’ épée), Au Sin-ying (ladies’ sabre), Nicholas Edward Choi (men’s foil) and Lam Hin-chung (men’s sabre). Leung himself is Hong Kong’s first men’s épée Olympic entrant and he’s apparently feeling a little confident. “My goal is to get into the final four,” the 24-year-old tells Time Out. He’s ambitious and so he should be – he has nothing to lose.
Strangely, Leung admits strength is one of his weaknesses. “People may not know this but fencing requires a lot of strength,” he says. “Hong Kong players can be very good in their techniques but we don’t have as much physical strength. So this is my current focus in training.”
As Hong Kong’s first épée representative at the games, Leung says he wants to set an example for local fencers, encouraging them to keep moving forward toward their goals. “When I retire from the front line, I want to be a fencing coach so that I can cultivate more players for Hong Kong and make my contribution to the development of local fencing.” There’s the small matter of the Olympics before that, though.
Cheung Chi-Yip: The judo star
When Cheung Chi-yip isn’t fighting fire, he’s fighting his judo opponents. Yes, the 25-year-old Olymplc medal hopeful is a full-time fireman but he’s swapping his hose for his throws at the London games. And, if he uses the same tenacity he has to employ in his day job, he could blaze to Olympic glory.
Cheung has already had to do a fair bit of fighting to earn his place at the games. The 25-year-old, Hong Kong’s first Olympic judo athlete in 16 years, started practising the discipline at the tender age of 11. In 2007, he decided to become a firefighter so he could get a good wage and raise a family – but he was still set on becoming an Olympic competitor one day. However, while he was training up to be a firefighter, he was forced to miss two important qualifying matches for the Beijing Olympics. So he had to watch the events from Hong Kong.
It could have been the end, though, two years ago. Cheung broke his left elbow in judo training sessions in Japan and almost gave up the sport as a result of his injuries. But he bounced back and it’s been all up from there. In last year’s Asian Championships, he fought his way into the final 16 in the 73kg category and subsequently secured a place at the Olympics. “At first I didn’t believe that I had got into the Olympics,” he says. “Asia has a lot of excellent judo athletes and I’m far from reaching their standards. So I was very excited.”
So Cheung is hopefully one to watch at the games. However, he hasn’t been able to spend all of his time focusing on success. He has still had to work tackling blazes in the city. He’s been working shifts: 24 hours on-duty and 48 hours off-duty, overnight untill 9am. “It’s been very tough,” he says. “Because of my timetable, I can only have judo training in the evenings.I have to practice harder than usual. Although when I’m on duty there are a lot of physical practices, it’s nothing compared to professional training.”
At the moment, physical strength and ‘gripping skill’ have been the major focus of Cheung’s training regime. “But time is my biggest problem now,” he admits. “Judo is a high-intensity sport where strength is the most important thing. Having enough time for training is really important.”
Cheung’s goal for the Olympics is to get into the final 16. “The first match will be the most difficult,” he says. “I hope I can give it all I’ve learned and I’ll be happy as long as I do my best in every match.” That’s the spirit – we know you will!
Wong Wing-Ki: The badminton player
This is China – and where Chinese athletics are concerned, racquet sports are the order of the day. Table tennis, squash and, of course, badminton. Okay, so Hong Kong may not match up to the might of the Chinese national badminton team but we do have a strong squad geared towards success. And Wong Wing-ki is top of the pack.
Wong is the number 16 seed for badminton in this Olympics, meaning he’s got an outside chance of bringing home a medal. He’s travelling to England as the only guy in a four-strong team of badminton hopefuls, alongside Poon Lok-yan and Tse Ying-suet for women’s doubles, and Yip Pui-yin for women’s singles.
However, the most amusing team-mate accompanying Wong on his journey is his ‘lucky underwear’. “It’s brought me luck in many previous matches, including the one where I beat Lin Dan [China’s badminton player and the world number one],” says the 22-year-old. “I’ll definitely bring it along to London.”
Wong’s ascent in the badminton world has been quite meteoric. He only started playing the sport when he was 16 years old, and even a year ago, he was still a newbie that few people knew. But in the Denmark Open in October last year, he rose to worldwide attention after beating the famous Korean player Lee Hyun-il, as well as Lin Dan. “Lin was not in his best condition at that time,” he says. “I think I just got lucky.”
After the open in Denmark, Wong kept up his good performance in plenty of other international matches and only recently ranked as high as 19 on the world rankings. He’s a serious player with a serious chance of becoming a champ. His goal for the London Olympics – his first Olympics, of course – is to win a medal. “I went to Indonesia to have special training in May,” he tells Time Out. “The intensity was very high and there was no air-conditioning in the base. I think it helped improve my strength and perseverance.”
Wong’s just told us he’s cut his hair for the games and has been to a Buddhist temple to pray for a good performance. But we think his underwear should get him through…
Lee Kar-Wai: The archer
A bow. A quiver of arrows. A target. It’s a sport as old as medieval jousting and pillaging neighbouring villages. Archery is one of the ultimate tests of skill, poise and nerve. And Calvin Lee Kar-wai personifies it all.
It’s been 20 years since Hong Kong has sent an archer to the Olympics. In 1992 the city was represented by a bowman who sadly didn’t advance to the elimination rounds. But here’s hoping Lee fares better – particularly as it makes him only our second ever archer from the SAR.
Lee earned his place at this summer’s games in October last year at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Iran. He finished fourth in the competition and, in May this year, he also performed outstandingly at the World Cup Stage 2 in Turkey. The top-ranking performances meant he had reached the minimum qualification score for the Olympics.
Lee was never sure he’d earn his plane ticket to London. He says he didn’t think he could perform as well as he did in Iran. “Right before the match my equipment had some problems so I had to make changes,” he tells Time Out. “I was quite relaxed during the match because I felt I didn’t have a chance. That’s why I’m so happy that I won Hong Kong a ticket to the Olympics. I see this as my greatest achievement in my archery career so far.”
A full-time archery coach, the 29-year-old, who has been wielding the bow for 17 years, sees reaching the Olympics as a greater achievement than holding any of the five individual records in the city’s Outdoor Recurve Men matches. And now, Lee has been solely setting his sights on preparing for the games – but he says there have been difficulties as he tries to get himself on target and ready for battle. “I’m all by myself,” he says. “I don’t have my own coach to give me suggestions and psychological help. I need to do a lot of things myself.”
One of the most important qualities of an archery player, according to Lee, is concentration. “You need to be very focused,” he says. “If you can avoid the influence of the environment, you will play it well.”
“I will do my best to perform well in London. That’s my greatest goal right now.”