HK's 'quiet under-achievers' are ready to turn the tables

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am

Should either Chai Po-wa or Chan Tan-lui, or both, win a medal at the Atlanta Olympics, they would be sure to thank, among others, windsurfer Lee Lai-shan.

Lee, like the duo a Hong Kong Sports Institute scholarship athlete, is probably the territory's biggest medal hope in Atlanta, marginally ahead of Chai and Chan.

And as expected, it is the windsurfer who has stolen most of the pre-Olympic headlines and the inevitable pressure that comes with it.

According to national table tennis coach David Cheng, Chai and Chan have not been subjected to as much attention from the media, largely because of Lee.

'There is always pressure when it comes to events like the Olympics, but my players have been saved much of this,' said Cheng.

'Most of the focus has been on Lee Lai-shan. With everybody talking about her medal chances, a lot of pressure has been taken from my players.' Hong Kong's China-born pair have been the territory's sporting under-achievers over the past eight years.

Although they have dominated Commonwealth countries, when it comes to the major events like Asian, world or Olympic competition, the duo have, more often than not, failed.

At the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, Chai and Chan were poised for a famous semi-final doubles victory over China's Deng Yaping and Qiao Hong .

But the clay-feet syndrome that seems to hit whenever they play China struck again and the pair had to settle for a bronze. Chai was also in line for an Olympic bronze at Barcelona but fell tamely to Qiao in the quarter-finals.

No one is doubting their medal capabilities in Atlanta, but Cheng is the first to admit that the duo, both in their late 20s, may be past their prime.

'The two players are getting to the stage where they may not be as quick as they used to be,' said Cheng.

'I think it may be their last chance in the Olympics. Both of them know this and they are determined to try their hardest.' Chai, ranked seventh in the world, has spent much of her time in Beijing, training six to seven hours a day, while 24th-ranked Chan, who has been studying in Australia, also puts in the same amount of time in her preparations.

The reality is, however, that this year's Olympic competition will be harder than 1992.

China, whose men and women swept the board at last year's World Championships in Tianjin, will be favourites to grab the bulk of the gold medals.

The Chinese have seven women ranked in the top 10 and five in the men's elite.

But other countries will also have their aces.

Singapore have emerged as a strong candidate with 16th-ranked Jing Jun Hong while Canada fields world number nine Geng Lijuan.

Another medal prospect is Japan's Chire Koyoma, the Asian Games gold medallist who previously represented China as He Zhili .

Hong Kong men's squad are not expected to challenge for medals, although veteran Lo Chuen-tsung will be hoping for a memorable run in what is certain to be his final Olympics.