Coach Shen waits 16 years to unearth gem
Shen Jinkang spent 16 years training Hong Kong cyclists wondering if he would ever discover an Olympic medallist - and then Sarah Lee Wai-sze showed she had the mettle.
'The idea did not come up until I saw Lee Wai-sze complete a hard and tough training programme and clinch a gold medal in the 500-metre time trial at the 2010 Asian Games,' said Shen. 'After her success in Guangzhou, I knew she had the potential to become an Olympic medallist in sprinting events.
'With the support of the sports science department at the Sports Institute, we designed another set of programmes that could push Lee into being among the world's top-ranked sprinters. Although she once felt the training was too exhausting, she was able to hang in there and finish it. We knew then she had a chance in London.'
The time trial was an Olympic programme at the 2004 Athens Games when Jiang Yonghua won a silver medal for China, but it was never featured again, with sprint and keirin being the two major short distance track events at the Olympics.
'People may think Asian riders cannot beat the stronger Westerners in these events, but this is not true,' he said. 'From Jiang to another Chinese rider, Guo Shuang, and now Lee, they can all stand on the medal podium. They also have a lot of fast-twitch fibres in their leg muscles and coupled with the brain of Asian riders, we do have a future.
'The major problem in Hong Kong is we don't have a squad big enough to maintain keen competition among the riders before we pick the best of them. Also, we are only strong in a few of the 10 track events under the International Cycling Union and cannot compete against big nations such as Great Britain and Australia,' said Shen, who arrived in Hong Kong in 1994 after falling out with mainland authorities.
He was a top cyclist in the late 70s and participated at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok, but was forced to retire two years later after losing one of his legs in a training accident. He then studied at the Shanghai Sports Institute before taking up the post as coach and later head coach of the China national team.
'I only heard there was a young cyclist with potential called Wong Kam-po and also a group of amateur riders who only trained after they finished their work in the day time. I was a bit upset about the situation but I had to face the reality,' said Shen, of his Hong Kong move.
Wong was serving a suspension after being involved in an incident during a training camp in Europe prior to the 1992 Barcelona Games. Shen helped put his career back on track.
'Wong rode in the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima where he finished fourth behind three riders from Kazakhstan, including London road race champion Alexandre Vinokourov,' he said. 'Now we have many up-and-coming riders and this has a lot to do with Wong, while Lee's medal is another important step in the development of cycling in Hong Kong.'
Wong was Hong Kong's most celebrated rider, the winner of three Asian Games road races and a five-time Olympian, though he never won a medal. However, he was instrumental in helping Lee succeed where he failed - something Lee acknowledged as she paid tribute to her coach and backroom staff, and a group of male teammates who trained with her the past couple of months.
'I won the medal on the track, but this is a team effort,' she said. 'I felt a bit uneasy when the Games were approaching, but Wong helped me get through that anxiety.'
Wong stayed in London after his road race last Saturday and has acted as the mechanic for the team.