Wilson takes passport plunge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am

Olympian Hannah Wilson has renounced her British citizenship for a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport, ending a long-running nationality saga.

The locally born Wilson twice needed a special dispensation from the International Olympic Committee before she could represent Hong Kong in the last two Games in Athens and Beijing because she did not hold a Hong Kong passport.

But to be able to compete at the World University Games in Belgrade in July, the 20-year-old sprinter decided to change her nationality.

Wilson, who is studying at the University of California at Berkeley, did not respond to e-mails about her decision, but Hong Kong Sports Institute head coach Chan Yiu-hoi confirmed the gifted swimmer would be able to represent Hong Kong at the Belgrade Games with an SAR passport.

'Wilson has applied for the SAR passport and is close to obtaining it,' Chan said. 'The documents will make her eligible for the World University Games as well as the London Olympics in 2012 without requiring any special dispensation from the authorities.

'This is good news for swimming because Wilson is our top athlete and has real medal hopes in the University Games.'

Patrick Chan Ping-cheung, head of the Hong Kong delegation to the Belgrade Games, said they had asked Wilson to clarify her status before she could join the rest of the squad.

'The Games organisers have requested an athlete be a passport holder of the country or region he or she will represent,' said Patrick Chan. 'Wilson was one of the first swimmers submitted for consideration, but she was without a Hong Kong passport.

'We asked her to clarify her nationality and, as far as we know, she has applied for an SAR passport and is about to get the papers done. We will announce the swimming squad as soon as possible.'

Swimming is one of the nine sports Hong Kong will take part in in Belgrade, but was not included in the list when Hong Kong announced a 33-member squad last month.

The University Sports Federation of Hong Kong said it had to wait for the results of last week's time trials before deciding on the swimming squad. But it is also believed it had to wait for the result of Wilson's passport application.

Wilson became the first Hong Kong woman to swim under one minute in the 100-metre butterfly when she finished second in the heats at last year's Olympics with a time of 59.35 seconds.

Coach Chan said Wilson would be a strong medal contender in Belgrade, judging by the time she set in Beijing. The University Games (July 1-12) are also close to the world championships (July 18 to August 2) in Rome and many swimmers will be concentrating on the meet in Italy.

'The world championships will attract many top swimmers who are university students, leaving Wilson with a good chance in the Belgrade event,' said the coach.

'The major threat may come from Liu Zige of China, who won the 200m butterfly in Beijing [in world record time], but Liu may also opt for the world championships like other top swimmers.'

Hong Kong have never won a medal at the University Games, with windsurfer Chan Wai-kei coming close with a fifth place at the 2005 tournament in Turkey.

At the 'Water Cube' in Beijing, Wilson also shattered her Hong Kong record in the 100m freestyle heats with a time of 55.32 seconds. She said after the Olympics she still had room for improvement as she had a great team to train with at her university in the US.