Time to turn cash into gold
Hong Kong sports supremo Timothy Fok Tsun-ting urged the government to provide more support to elite sports development after riding the euphoria of sprint cyclist Lee Wai-sze's success.
Two years ago, the government identified four elite sports at the Hong Kong Sports Institute as priorities, giving badminton, table tennis, windsurfing and cycling extra funding. But Fok wants more. 'Lee's bronze medal coupled with Yip Pui-yin's quarter-final place has proved we are able to mount serious challenges at the Olympic Games,' said Fok, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the Hong Kong Olympic Committee president.
'Our athletes come to the Games not just to participate but many of them want to challenge for a medal. But over the years, the government's policy has given priority to recreation and devoted a lot of resources. It's time to rethink such a policy.'
Fok, who also watched Yip's close defeat to China's Li Xuerui in the women's badminton quarter-finals, cited the example of Britain.
'We know they have had the biggest investment to prepare their athletes for the Games, especially in cycling in which they have proved to be a formidable force with three gold medals so far,' he said. 'If we want our athletes to come close to that level, we definitely need more support, both tangible and intangible.'
The Lottery Fund in England has provided a wealth of financial backing to sports in terms of training, coaching and overseas competitions. Cycling is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the fund.
Lee's performance was greeted with joy and relief by Fok and other local officials in London. There was joy that an eight-year wait for a medal had finally ended and relief that Hong Kong would not return empty-handed like they did from Beijing in 2008, thus justifying the government's increased support for the sport.
Trisha Leahy, CEO of the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI), who was among the Hong Kong cheering squad at the velodrome, said the result had set another benchmark for the city.
'Lee has shown that Hong Kong athletes have the ability to compete against and beat the world's best. She has set a benchmark and this should be an ongoing expectation for us,' Leahy said.
'Credit must go to coach Shen. Government support has also been central to being able to establish a comprehensive elite training delivery system for the associations, and in particular the priority target sports funding has been essential to this result, proving that strategic funding in the right areas at the right time can produce world class results.'
With more than 30 athletes being part of the scholarship programme at the HKSI and with more facilities sprouting, cycling is in rude health.
Fok, who also witnessed Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching winning silver in table tennis doubles for Hong Kong at the 2004 Athens Games, admitted suffering from a bout of nerves when Lee failed to qualify directly to the second round.
'We have been waiting for eight years for another medal to come and my heart was thumping fast. But I have confidence in her as we know she is a rider with great quality,' he said.
'We all know she has been working extremely hard to get this medal and she deserves all the credit she gets.'
Fok said he had already given a broad hint that Lee would be making headlines in London.
'We appointed her as the flag bearer for at the opening ceremony and now you know what that means,' he said.
'We may also consider Lee to be the flag bearer at the closing ceremony on Sunday.'
Lee will resume competition today in the women's sprint after a one-day break when she spent most of her time on the bike machine for some light training inside the athletes' village.
She won a bronze medal in the same event at the London Games test event in February after losing to Guo Shuang of China in the semi-finals.