Hayley Chan all set for debut despite injuries
Five broken ribs and a lost spleen have not slowed down windsurfer Hayley Chan Hei-man, who will make her dream Olympic debut less than four weeks after leaving hospital.
A sunburnt Chan was full of smiles as she made her first appearance since the horrific accident during training in Weymouth nearly ended her hopes of taking part in her first Olympics.
'It all happened so suddenly and the next thing I knew I was badly hurt and had to undergo surgery,' said Chan, 21. 'When I woke up after the surgery I knew at that time I wanted to take part. I was determined I would get back on the water and get ready. Rene [Appel, her coach] asked me if I wanted to continue and I said, 'Yes'.'
Chan collided head-on with a sailing dinghy on June 2, a few weeks after the Hong Kong windsurfing squad arrived to prepare for the Games. Initial reports suggested she would not recover in time and at one stage it looked as if Hong Kong would not have an entry in the women's RSX event as the other leading candidate, Vicky Chan Wai-kei, is pregnant.
'She has made a remarkable recovery. For someone who broke five ribs and had her spleen removed, this is really incredible,' Appel said. 'She is going to turn some heads on the race course when she takes part.'
Despite the upbeat mood and the determination shown by Chan, Appel said a lot of time had been lost due to the injury.
'She has undergone a good rehabilitation programme and has proved she is strong, both mentally and physically. She was injured on June 2 and she got back on to the water on July 4 so she lost a lot of time which otherwise would have been spent on fine-tuning her preparation,' he said.
'But the time we had on water since she returned has been spent on getting her back to a decent level of performance. It is hard to say how competitive she will be, yet the little bit we have been doing looks really good. She is absolutely amazing.'
Chan will line up against 25 other women in the RSX category. Weather and wind permitting, she faces a gruelling schedule with two races each day, starting next Tuesday. She will take part in 10 races before the field is culled for the final medal race on August 7.
'I feel really good. I don't feel the loss of my spleen has affected me. If at all, I feel lighter,' joked Chan. 'The only pain I feel sometimes is down the middle of my tummy where they cut open to do the operation. I find it difficult sometimes when I'm doing my exercises.' 'But the last two weeks have been great. The weather has improved and I feel good when I'm out there on the water.'
To help take her mind off the challenge awaiting and also a break from a long two-month stay in Weymouth, Appel and the windsurfing squad joined the rest of the Hong Kong squad at the athletes' village and took part in the opening ceremony.
'We normally don't take part as in past Games we have been based away from the rest of the squad. But I felt it would be good to give everyone a break and as the competition only gets under way next Tuesday, we decided to come and have some fun with the others,' Appel said.
It will be dream come true for Chan, who took a year off from university to devote full-time to qualifying and preparing for the Games.
'She is already a winner in my eyes,' Appel said. 'What she has done is really amazing. I have only seen one other person who had that same determination in this sport and it won't be hard to guess who I'm referring to.'
In 1996, in Atlanta, Lee Lai-shan won Hong Kong its first ever Olympic gold medal and Chan has always dreamed of emulating her.
Hong Kong's only Olympic gold medal came in windsurfing - Lee Lai-shan at the Atlanta Games