Take a bow Lee, you've just hit the bullseye

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


Like a modern-day Robin Hood, Calvin Lee Kar-wai has become a hero with a bow and arrow, after qualifying for the London Olympics against all odds.

Hong Kong's sole archer at the Games has proven the system can be beaten with sheer heart and guts.

'I didn't get any support from the government or the Hong Kong Sports Institute, but I'm going to the Olympics. I'm very, very proud of what I have done,' says Lee, 29, as he readies for a training session.

The bespectacled Lee hardly resembles an Errol Flynn, or even a Russell Crowe, two Hollywood leading men who played the role of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, but he has emerged as an unlikely hero in the small archery community for his pluck at bucking the system.

While a host of other sports get backing from the government, either through the Sports Institute or the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, archery has been largely ignored - that is until Lee stunned everyone by winning a berth at the Olympics.

Yu Kam-ming, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Archery Association, who used to coach him when Lee was a student, said: 'What he has achieved is amazing. It is simply dedication and hard work which has got Calvin so far.

'By qualifying for the Olympics, Calvin has suddenly raised the profile of the sport. All of a sudden we are being interviewed by the media. Television was here the other day to talk to him. Hopefully, this will help us gain recognition.'

There are around 1,000 active archers in Hong Kong, most of them affiliated to 30-odd clubs, with quite a few in schools, including St Paul's College in Bonham Road. Lee is a former St Paul's student and is thankful for his early grounding at the school for making his dream come true.

'It was while I was at St Paul's that I really picked up the sport. I joined the archery club and everything started from here,' Lee says.

'When I left and joined Hong Kong University, I began to take the sport more seriously but I never thought that one day I would be going to the Olympics.'

Unlike a talented badminton player or cyclist, Lee had to find his own way. Equipment is expensive, especially top-quality arrows which cost around HK$3,500 for a dozen. The quiver needs to be replenished often as he runs through arrows quickly, training for hours at a time.

While athletes from the 15 elite sports at the Sports Institute are treated like royalty - the top Elite A athletes gets a monthly grant of HK$32,000 plus everything paid for, from the costs for overseas competition to free meals - Lee has to scrounge around for money.

Fortunately friends and family have chipped in, and he also made money from archery coaching classes. 'I never got any support from the government until I qualified for the Olympics. Before that it was a struggle. I had to pay for everything and had to depend on friends whenever I had to go overseas for competition,' Lee said.

This was the case last October when the Asian Olympic qualification tournament took place in Tehran. Lee, with around HK$20,000 in his kitty, paid for his own flights and rooming so that he could represent Hong Kong.

Archery at the Olympics has places for only 64 men and 64 women. Qualification spots are assigned to national Olympic committees, which then decide which athlete they should send. There are four ways an NOC can qualify for the Games:

As host nation you are assured of three spots for each gender;

The top eight teams (besides the host nation) at the World Target Competition each get three berths, accounting for 24 more spots. In addition, 19 of the highest-ranked archers, after the team qualifiers are removed, also qualify, which brings the total who qualify from the worlds to 43,

15 of the remaining 18 spots are given to five continental qualifiers. So each continent gets three berths;

The last three spots go to the Olympic tripartite commission, which can invite a nation.

Lee was among 32 competitors from 22 countries vying for the three berths given to Asia. He had to finish in the top three. He finished fourth, losing the third-place play-off to Iranian Keyva Riyazimehr. But Riyazimehr's teammate, Milad Vaziri, had finished first, and as only one berth was available per country, Hong Kong moved up a place. Thus Iran, Thailand and Hong Kong won berths at the London Games.

Yu, who founded the archery club at St Paul's College in 1994, said: 'It is a huge result. When you consider there are more than 200 national Olympic committees in the world and that only 64 places are up for grabs, Hong Kong has proved it belongs in that top group by qualifying.'

But it was only half the job done for Lee. The association had to decide which athlete to nominate to the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. Lee had to prove he was the man for the occasion.

'I had to achieve a minimum score of 625 at an international competition to earn the right to represent Hong Kong,' Lee said.

Last week he took part in a shootout in Turkey. This time, however, the circumstances had already changed for the better. With Hong Kong having qualified for the Olympics, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department opened its coffers and gave HK$1.7 million to archery. Talks are under way for Lee to get a monthly grant from the Sports Institute. Buoyed by these developments, Lee went to Istanbul with hope in his heart.

'I shot 628 to earn my qualification. It is only sinking in now that I'm going to the Olympics,' Lee said. 'I tried four years ago to qualify for the Beijing Olympics but failed. Now I have done it.'

It will be the first time in 20 years - a span of four Olympics - that Hong Kong will be sending an archer to the Games.

Hong Kong was represented in 1984, 1988 and 1992 at the Olympics, but since then no one has hit the mark, or bullseye.

On July 27, the day of the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, Lee will line up with 63 other competitors at the famous Lord's Cricket Ground in the preliminary round of the men's competition. His aim will be to finish as high as possible in the rankings, so that in the next elimination round, he does not come up against the world's best, mainly from South Korea.

'In the preliminary ranking round, I will have to shoot a high score and try and finish in the middle of the grouping at least. For example, if I finish last, I will be up against the number one ranked archer in the elimination matches,' Lee said.

The target, concentric circles of white, black, blue, red and gold is 70 metres away. Lee will shoot 72 arrows (in six ends, or groups, of 12 arrows). Archers are then ranked by score to determine their seeding for the single-elimination bracket at the end of which 32 men will remain standing. These numbers continue to be whittled down - 16, 8, four - until the individual gold medallist is decided.

Lee is unlikely to be around for the latter stages. But he has already championed archery's cause in Hong Kong.

'I'm not a professional, unlike most of the others who will be at the Olympics. I have a degree in bio-technology but I'm involved in archery purely for the love of it. Going to London for the Olympics is a dream come true. My only hope is that my presence at these Games will inspire others to take up the sport,' he said.

It was a struggle. I had to pay for everything and depend on friends when I had to [compete abroad] Calvin Lee


Seconds an archer has to fire each arrow