Weakened Ng is taking nothing for granted
Fenella Ng Gar-loc is used to racing against other rowers - now she is racing against time.
She has less than a month to prepare for the most important event of her sculling career, one that could realise her dream of becoming a two-time Olympian in different sports.
At the beginning of the year Ng - fresh from double silver success at the Asian Games - had every reason to be confident about next month's Asian Championships in Naganuma, Japan. She knew a top-three finish would secure qualification for the Sydney Olympics and a unique sporting double after she represented Hong Kong as a swimmer in Los Angeles and Seoul.
After her Asian Games efforts - silver medals in both lightweight and heavyweight singles - the Japan event appeared a formality.
But 1999 brought only frustration. A mystery virus severely disrupted her training and resulted in a disappointing showing at last month's World Championships.
'I can't take it for granted now. I have got only four weeks and my priority is to get strong,' said Ng during a break in training at the Sha Tin rowing centre.
'In theory, it shouldn't be too difficult. But all it takes is somebody you've never heard of to suddenly turn up and do well. You can't be too confident.' Ng confirmed she would be rowing only the heavyweight singles in Japan, having ditched plans to take part in the lightweight doubles as well. Both categories are Olympic events, whereas the lightweight singles - her speciality - is not.
'In previous years, I doubled up in the Asian Championships. But I've not been well, so I don't want to stress my body too hard. I'm just focusing on the heavyweight singles.
'All along we were planning to race in the lightweight doubles as well, but I don't have the time to try out a new combination now.
'The original plan was 'try to get as many medals as you can and, by the way, you qualify'. Now, things have turned around.
'The Chinese girl will definitely win it [in Japan]. The Japanese girl is quite fast but normally I wouldn't be too worried as I haven't lost to her for a few years, except in the World Championships when I was sick. There is no other established rower who I think could beat me.' Ng's carefully laid plans began to unravel in May, when she started feeling unwell at the year's first World Cup event in Belgium. It got worse during training ahead of the second World Cup event in Vienna in June. The cause was found to be an energy-sapping virus attack.
'During steady state training, I was fine. But when I tried to do anaerobic work like sprint work, I couldn't sustain it at all. My heart-rate was very high. I couldn't do it for more than a minute,' she said.
'At first I thought it was jet-lag. But I knew in Vienna it had to be something else. It is always difficult when you are away on tour. You haven't got all the access to blood-testing and everything. So it was very difficult to diagnose.
'I pulled out of the Vienna event after the preliminary rounds. I barely finished the 2,000 metres and was way off the pace.' International Rowing Federation doctors in the Austrian capital told Ng it was a typical case of over-training which had weakened her immune system. They advised her to undergo tests.
'I came back to Hong Kong to do all the testing. In two weeks, I was doing testing every day - blood tests, heart scans. Basically all these tests couldn't tell me what it was. They could only tell me what it wasn't. It was more of an elimination process,' she said.
Ng was still suffering the after-effects at the World Championships in St Catharines, Canada, last month. She finished 14th in the lightweight singles, a disappointment after her sixth place at the previous world event.
Even now, Ng doesn't know exactly what kind of virus she suffered from - she is simply glad to have fully recovered.
Should Ng qualify for the Olympics, she knows she will be one of the lightest rowers in a competition packed with heavyweights.
'The calibre will be very high there. Some of the girls weigh around 90 or 100 kilograms. When I race in lightweight, I am 59 kilos, which is the limit. By next year, I may be able to put on another four to five kilos but I will still be small. Although I won't come last, it will be very difficult to reach the final. I will be looking at middle of the pack, realistically,' she said.
Ng knows that success in Japan will mean her hardest work is only just beginning, for the Olympics are the ultimate goal.
'At the end of the day, it is not a case of just saying, 'I went',' she said.
I have got only four weeks and my priority is to get strong