Fans determined to see their Games heroes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am

Hongkongers buy HK$200 buffet tickets for glimpse of gold medallists going to lunch

The security was tight, but the fans were determined to get as close as they could to China's Olympic-gold- medal-winning sports stars when they arrived at their hotel yesterday.

Some paid HK$200 for a buffet lunch on the mezzanine floor of the International Grand Stanford which offered a view of the corridor through which the athletes had to pass on their way to a lunch hosted by the hotel's owner, Lui Che-woo.

Other people were found wandering the hotel's floors whom its managers suspected were not staying there. Security staff were called in to escort them away. The hotel confirmed it had hired extra security staff for the medallists' three-day stay, but would not say how many.

The Olympians include diving queen Guo Jingjing, gymnasts Li Xiaopeng and Cheng Fei and badminton champion Lin Dan.

Onlookers at the buffet screamed when they saw new gymnastics prince Li and 'Super Dan' Lin walk by, and rushed to the take photos.

Inside the ballroom where the two-hour lunch was held, the camera flashes didn't stop for a second.

About a dozen fans - mainly young women - were waiting outside hoping for a photo.

'I'll fight for the opportunities to take photos of, and with, Zou Kai ,' said Y. Y. Chiu, a 20-year-old student who had prepared a banner and a gift for the triple-gold-winning gymnast. 'He's brilliant and very cute.'

Ms Chiu hoped there would be more time and opportunities for fans to meet their favourite athletes. She didn't rule she and her friends chasing them during their stay.

Sixteen-year-old Marta Comas from Spain waited for the medallists in the lobby after putting her plans to tour Hong Kong on hold.

She said she had no plans to stalk the stars but was 'quite excited' when the concierge told her that they would be coming.

'I plan to take pictures and my dad wants an autograph,' she said.

Property-to-construction tycoon Mr Lui said nearly 200 rooms had been block-booked for the athletes' stay.

'I'm very happy to see them. The most important thing is to make sure that this is a safe and happy trip,' he said.

The medallists were up early to catch their flight, and appeared tired when they arrived at the hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui East at midday.

They brightened when they saw the guard of honour awaiting them - lines of smartly attired hotel staff and about 40 energetic young Civil Aid Service members on either side of the red carpet waving the national and Beijing Olympics flags. The medallists shook hands with as many as possible before entering the hotel.

On their way out later for a government cocktail reception, some of the stars paused in the lobby to signed a horse statue donated by the Jockey Club to mark their visit.

Shopkeepers in the neighbourhood are hoping that the stars will drop by in the next two days.

Chung Kwok-hung, who owns Chung's Jewellery across the street, hung a banner welcoming the athletes outside his shop. 'Now that they've won gold medals and got concessions from the government, they're rich people. I hope they will shop more,' he said.

He is especially hoping to see Guo Jingjing and gymnast Yang Wei.

'I'll definitely give them discounts, so much that I'll be half giving them away,' he said.

Pointing to an old photo showing weightlifting champion Liu Chun-hong wearing a gold pendant bought from his store, he said he hoped his friend would be paying him a return visit.

Fifty-year-old businessman Yip Yan-kit prepared 51 presents for the team that won China a record 51 golds.

He wrote 51 poems featuring the names of the winning athletes - and spent more than HK$5,000 to produce them on scrolls.

'I like all of them, but Guo Jingjing is my favourite because she is the 'future daughter-in-law' of Hong Kong,' he said, echoing rumours Guo will soon wed Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, the grandson of the late tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung.