Scratch win puts Wong on top of the world - and gives HK first gold
A critical miscalculation by the pack helped Wong Kam-po spring a surprise in the men's 15-kilometre scratch race and claim Hong Kong's first gold medal at a world championships yesterday.
Chan Chun-hun, secretary general of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, believes the 22-strong field underestimated his ability. With 10 laps to go in the 60-lap race, the 34-year-old Asian Games gold medallist broke away on his own, but the pack were slow to chase him, a misjudgment they are not likely to repeat.
Chan, one of the finishing judges at the track in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, described the thrill of watching Wong stave off the desperate efforts of his opponents to catch him as he raced to the finish line.
'The scratch race is straightforward as the first rider to cross the finish line is the winner,' said Chan. 'I was there to witness the entire race. Until the moment Wong crossed the finish, I was still unsure whether he could become Hong Kong's first rider to win in a world event. It was nailbiting. It is just too difficult to adequately describe the excitement I felt when Wong raced through those last few laps.'
According to Chan, the pace in the first half of the race was too fast to enable a breakaway. All the riders then took a breather before Wong attacked with 10 laps left. 'Perhaps it was because he is an Asian rider and the others did not take him seriously that he managed to make a clean break,' Chan said. 'It was only after half a lap that a Russian rider gave chase. He got close with four laps left but then started to weaken. Ah-po [Wong] was also exhausted but he managed to hold on to the finish line.'
Wim Stroetinga of the Netherlands was second and Rafal Tatajczyk of Poland third.
'Japan have won the Keirin race in the world championships while South Koreans have also previously won the points race at this level. Now with Wong's victory in the scratch, it proves Asian riders are closing the gap in track cycling, which is traditionally dominated by westerners.
'It also proves Hong Kong riders have reached world standard, a result that we have been striving for years.'
Chan admitted that Wong's victory came as a bit of a surprise as the scratch race is not his favourite. 'Wong rarely competes in scratch, but it proves he has had good preparation and is an indication of what a quality rider he is.'
Wong was delighted and said he hoped it could lead to more success in Beijing next year. 'It was wonderful to have won the race here and our next target will be the Olympic Games in Beijing,' said Wong. 'I also hope my victory can help raise the profile of cycling in the community so that more young people will join the sport in future.'
Scratch is not an Olympic event in track cycling, but Wong's Beijing target will be the points race, in which he has made two Olympic appearances, in Sydney and Athens.
This is Wong's second major international success in four months. He clinched his second Asian Games individual road race title in Doha, Qatar, in December after his first title at the Bangkok Games in 1998.
Milestones in Wong Kam-po's career
In 1993, at the age of 19, says he has lost interest in cycling and is quitting top-level racing over team infighting
Wins gold medals in the individual road race event at the 1997 and 2001 National Games
Wins two Asian Games road race gold medals (in 1998 and 2006)
Clinches the coveted Best of the Best Hong Kong Sports Star Award for third time in 2007
Grabs historic 15km scratch gold for Hong Kong at world track championships