HK ride unified Korea's wave of emotion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2002, 12:00am

Hong Kong's largest-ever contingent for the Asian Games received the biggest cheer of the night when they paraded themselves in front of a sell-out crowd of 60,000 - well, almost.

The SAR's 255-delegation marched into the Pusan Asiad Main Stadium moments before a 'unified' contingent of North and South Korean athletes and officials made their highly anticipated appearance. The Korean team paraded behind a Korean Peninsula flag and Hong Kong athletes could have been forgiven for thinking the wild reception was for them.

Decked out in their cream-coloured jackets, the Hong Kong team, dwarfed in size by Korea's massive 1,200-plus joint contingent, was the second last to enter the stadium with teams parading in alphabetical order in the Korean language.

Organisers, naturally, left the best for last with South Korea and their northern counterparts marching hand-in-hand to the delight of the enthusiastic spectators, who showed the same national fervour as they did during summer's highly successful World Cup campaign.

Hong Kong did have their moment of glory as they shared the limelight with other national teams from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), which was represented by all 43-member states. Nearly 10,000 athletes will compete over the next two weeks for 419 gold medals in 38 sports.

As teams marched out of the stadium, spectators were treated to a spectacular show of colour and vision as South Korean President Kim Dae-jung declared the 14th Asian Games open. Olympic champion judoka Kye Sun-hui of the North and Ha Hyung-joo of the South jointly lit the ceremonial flame.

Hong Kong were led into the stadium by flag-bearer Sunny Hui Cheung-kwok, gold medallist in tenpin bowling at the last Games in Bangkok in 1998. Hui said it was an experience he would never forget.

'It was a great honour,' said 40-year-old Hui, a gold medal prospect in men's singles and masters. 'I was nervous and excited at the same time. I knew the Koreans were just behind me so I tried to keep my composure. The flag was not light and I did my best to carry it with pride.'

The opening ceremony lifted some of the gloom surrounding Hong Kong's controversial table tennis team, who had two members thrown out before competition even begins.

Mainland-born female players Lin Ling and Zhang Rui are still in the Athletes' Village, waiting for the first available flight home after being disqualified by game organisers for failing to fulfil a three-year residential ruling.

The three other female players - Song Ah-sim, Tie Yana and late addition Wong Ching - are fine-tuning their training as they prepare for the women's team event starting tomorrow.

Hong Kong had their first team success yesterday when the men's basketball team began their campaign with a 77-57 win over Kuwait, sending them straight into the quarter-finals for the first time in the basketball competition.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong have a chance of winning their first medal when star cyclist Wong Kam-po competes in the 50-kilometre individual time trial today. Alexandra Yeung Ka-wah also holds medal hopes in the women's competition of the same event.