Five-time champion sets sights on more gold
Come rain or shine, five-time Paralympic gold medallist So Wa-wai can be seen training at the Ma On Shan Sports Ground.
To focus entirely on winning more gold this year, So took a year's leave last October. His employer, Canto-pop star Andy Lau Tak-wah, pays him a training allowance.
'My training is tougher than before, running two hours a day from Monday to Friday,' said the 27-year-old, who has had cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment since birth.
'I work with three coaches, who have tailor-made a programme for me. We focus on my weaknesses and improve my running skills. They devote their time and energy to help me.'
So started running in primary school and his talent was spotted in 1995 at a sports gala for the disabled. Picked to train as an elite athlete, he won his first gold medal in the 4x100 metres relay at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. He won three gold medals in Sydney (at 100, 200 and 400 metres) and won the 200 metres again in Athens in 2004.
'I am lucky to have my coaches around supporting me,' So said. 'I have confidence in the 100 and 200, which are my best events. What I need to focus on are my speed and endurance. That's why I went with my coaches to Yunnan for six days of high-altitude training in July.'
So's training is gruelling. Coach Choi Hei-fung minds the stopwatch and allows five minutes' rest before So has to shoot out of the blocks again. At each training session, he competes against able-bodied runners such as coach Poon Kin-lui.
So's coaches are confident in his ability. 'As long as he maintains his current condition, there is no problem for medals,' Poon said. 'We have to remember he has to face more young competitors this time. China's disabled athletes, who are also on the rise, are very impressive.'
Some athletes are suffering from a lack of facilities because of the relocation of the Hong Kong Sports Institute to make way for the Sha Tin arena for the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events. Many are training in public sports centres.
While teams in sports such as boccia - a ball game - and fencing are juggling sites, So's strict training regime is not affected.
'This new development makes no difference to my schedule,' he said. 'It really means I can adapt to different conditions.'