HK coach puts a brave face on Beijing flop
Chan urges squad to up their game for final Olympic push
Hong Kong coach Chan Yin-hoi yesterday put a brave face on his squad's disappointing showing at the 2008 China Open in Beijing - an event to not only test the Water Cube venue but also seal some of his charges' Olympic qualification.
Instead, the five-strong team made their way home from the new National Aquatics Centre buffeted by the capital's freezing winter winds empty-handed, and with the prospect of a hard slog over the coming months to improve.
'It's not been good. We were hoping maybe two of the team would qualify for Beijing here,' said Chan after the remaining swimmers completed their finals.
Claudia Lau Yin-yan struggled into fifth place in the 100m backstroke in one minute, 5.25 seconds - almost three seconds short of the Olympic B qualifying standard.
And, despite briefly challenging for bronze during her 400m individual medley final, Carmen Nam ended up in a dual for fifth place against Taiwan's Lin Man-Hsu - and lost. She finished sixth on 5:02.21, a distant seven seconds behind the Olympic B standard qualifying time of 4:55.06.
Earlier in the five-day competition, Sze Hang-yu failed to qualify in her favourite 100m butterfly event. And Chan Yu-ning and Kong Man-yi were also unable to beat the clock to claim an Olympic place.
'We're going to have to train harder and things should improve once we get back into the Olympic-size pool [after the closed season],' said coach Chan.
'I'm still hopeful we can at least see two or maybe three swimmers qualify for Beijing in the next qualifying event in April,' he added.
But he repeated calls for improvements in Hong Kong's swimming facilities.
'We need to bring training facilities up to Olympic standard and be able to train in Olympic-sized [50m] pool all year round,' he added.
Chan said improving the SAR's pools was also vital if swimmers were to challenge for medals in home waters during next year's East Asian Games.
'This will be Hong Kong's biggest sporting event so I'm looking forward with that in mind. It was good for the team at this event because so many Asian swimmers were here,' he said.
Host China, spearheaded by Qi Hui and Zhang Lin, topped the medals table with 12 golds, nine silvers and six bronzes. Germany, led by Britta Steffen and Helge Meeuw, ranked second overall with eight gold, five silver and four bronze.
Swimmers from Japan, Hungary, Sweden, Korea and Poland also bagged medals as powerhouses US and Australia were among many medal-strong nations absent.
However, the tournament did exactly what it was billed to do - test the Water Cube and the operations.
'It's a very good venue, but they need to adjust some things,' said Chan.
'Some athletes got lost after being misdirected, and some of the organisation has been slow. But that's why it's a test event. They'll fix that.'
The event drew a modest mainly home crowd to the 17,000-seater stadium, and they passed the test of civility laid down by the government over the last 12 months in a fun mood throughout the tournament.
Japanese victories and their gold medals ceremonies brought a fidgety silence but national anthems were honoured with all standing.
Jubilant cheers and applause erupted when Chinese swimmers splashed home, a taste of the vocal home support to come in August.
The test event was staged on Olympic time, with the medal races being staged in the mornings, a controversial decision made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change the swimming final schedules to suit paying US TV companies seeking prime-time viewing slots.
World champion and record holder Steffen clinched three titles at the event and said she was happy with the early scheduling.
Polish swimmer and Athens Olympic gold medalist Otylia Jedrzejczak, was unimpressed.
'I felt tired and sleepy during the finals,' she said.
Many of the 234 competitors recorded lower personal times and there was a division over whether the pool was too hot or too cold.
But Hong Kong's Claudia Lau blamed herself for her poor performance and praised the facilities.
'My swim was bad and I'll work to improve. It's a very good venue. The under floor heating is really good for swimmers,' she added.