Three hours from glory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am


For days, weeks, months and years Hong Kong cyclist Lee Wai-sze has been preparing for this moment - and it will all be over in three quick races within three hours.

Lee, 25, will compete in the keirin race at the Velopark next Friday, and is considered Hong Kong's best hope of winning an Olympic medal since Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching won silver in the men's table tennis doubles at the Athens Games in 2004. Retired windsurfer Lee Lai-shan won our one and only gold medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Although Hong Kong is sending its largest squad since the 1988 Seoul Games (49 athletes), only a few of the 42 athletes in London can call themselves a medal contender, with Lee shouldering the greatest expectation.

Women's keirin is being introduced to the Olympics for the first time. The competition starts with 18 riders, who went through a two-year qualification process.

They will be divided into three groups by their world rankings and compete in the heats (with repechages), with the best 12 progressing to the second round. The top six riders then go through to the final with an eight-lap dash of the 200-metre track deciding the winner.

'With a little luck, and by attacking at the right time and the right place, she can win a medal,' said coach Shen Jinkang. 'The entire competition will be finished within three hours but the effort she has put in to get there has been enormous.

'On one hand, she needs to increase her anaerobic power in her legs for sprinting, but her endurance power also needs to be strengthened as she requires quick recovery between the races. This cannot be done without high intensity training.' Lee went through what she described as the toughest months in her life after the World Championships in Melbourne in March. She started training at 9am and did not finish until 7pm, six days a week.

'I know I am among the top riders following my performance in the London test event in February and my ultimate target is to get a top three position in the Games,' Lee said confidently. 'That's why I was able to get through the tough training and get my body ready for London.

'All my major rivals will have to compete in the team sprint the previous day and will face recovery problems. My fresh muscles will definitely give me some advantage.'

Although Lee broke the Asian record in the 500-metre time trial (not an Olympic event) at the 2010 Asian Games, she did not catch the attention of the world's track sprinters until her performance in the test event where she captured a silver medal in the keirin and a bronze in the individual sprint at the Velopark.

Victoria Pendleton of Britain, Anna Meares of Australia and Guo Shuang of China, who were the top three in the sprint at the 2008 Beijing Games, were behind Lee in the keirin final, while she beat Pendleton again in the third-place playoff for the sprint.

Lee failed to repeat the feat in the following month's World Championships in Melbourne, but she has become one of the major contenders for an Olympic medal. She will also start in the sprint two days later, but Shen admitted Lee still had a lot to learn in that event.

'She is a clever girl with a very good tactical mind,' said Shen. 'But still she needs more exposure at the world's highest level before she can be a true medal contender in the sprint.'

Hong Kong came away empty-handed at the Beijing Games but the women's table tennis team reached the second round of the bronze medal play-off before losing to Japan in a closely fought match.

Hong Kong are seeded fifth in London and will rely on top players Tie Yana and Jiang Huajun and youngster Lee Ho-ching. If the form book holds, they will face hot favourites and defending champions China or second seeds Japan in the quarter-finals.

While China remain in a class of their own and are seemingly unbeatable, Hong Kong will need to be on top of their game if they want to overcome the Japanese. Singapore, silver medallists in Beijing, and bronze medallists South Korea are the two other strong rivals.

Now 33, Tie will be competing in her third and last Olympics. With medals in the World Championships, World Cup and Asian Games under her belt, the Olympic Games remain the only unconquered land for the right-handed, shakehand grip player.

Tie, who will also be competing in the singles where she reached the quarter-finals on the two previous occasions, has become wiser with experience.

As the seventh seed, she will not start her campaign until the third round, along with teammate Jiang, the 12th seed.

'Every player wants to leave on a high note and the Olympic Games will be the ideal swansong,' said the former mainlander. 'Mentally, I am now in my best condition as I have been around for so long and know how to deliver on a big stage like the Olympics. It will not be easy for any top player as all of us want to win.

'The two Chinese players will definitely be the favourites in the singles, but you never know on a big occasion. I won't put too much pressure on myself. I'll just enjoy the competition and see it how goes.'

Small haul


- Hong Kong's total medals

- Women's windsurfing gold (1996) and men's doubles table tennis silver (2004)