Coach He aims to put HK in Olympic elite
Newly appointed head coach Tim He Yiming hopes he can complete the unfinished job of his predecessor, Chan Chi-choi, in bringing Hong Kong to the world's highest level.
He, who arrived in Hong Kong as a coach in 1993, took over the top job this month after his former boss, Chan, ended a 20-year association with the Sports Institute in April.
'We have won medals at the Asian Games and world championships, on the professional tour and in many other high level competitions, but we are still a second-class team in Asia, well behind China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia,' said He, who was a member of the China national squad during his playing days in the 1980s.
'In the long run, we have to prove ourselves at the Olympic Games if we want to become a real force to be reckoned with. This is also the dream of a coach like myself and the dream of every person involved in Hong Kong badminton.'
He had been working closely with Chan as the women's team coach and knows there is one glaring omission on their CVs - an Olympic medal. 'This is a big challenge. The badminton team have been making good progress over the years, but we still need to put in more effort before we can achieve the goal,' he said.
'To do that, we must expand our elite squad like those top countries - to have more talent in the team and to maintain a keen competition among the players so they push each other to work harder. The players also need to gather adequate results at the highest level so they believe they can accomplish the job at the Olympic Games.'
He said when he first joined the Hong Kong team in the 1990s there were not enough players to fill the eight courts during training, but now they need 12 courts for their men's and women's teams.
'Countries like China have more than 100 members in the national squad and the players always need to perform at their best to get more competition opportunities. We have less than 30 players in the Hong Kong team and our target is to double the squad size,' said the coach.
'We have been producing more potential players than before and that's why our squad has been expanding. We have some very good players coming through the ranks and we hope to see them produce results at senior level in the next couple of years.'
Chan Tsz-ka, 20, has broken into the world's top 35 and reached the women's singles quarter-finals at the recent Malaysia Grand Prix. Poon Lok-yan and Tse Ying-suet, both 19, won a bronze medal in the women's doubles at last year's World Junior Championships.
In the men's squad, 20-year-old Wong Wing-ki, now ranked 43rd in the world, reached the third round at the Malaysia Grand Prix. Lee Chun-hei and Ng Ka-long, who came fourth in this year's World Junior Championships team event at the age of 16, are also future hopes.
But before these youngsters can take up the baton from their seniors, He still needs to rely on the old guard, especially with the approach of the two major competitions this year: next month's World Championships in Paris and the Guangzhou Asian Games in November.
'The World Championships will be a good pilot test for the Asian Games. If we can achieve some good results there, it will give us an important morale booster for our build-up towards Guangzhou,' he said.
In 2007, Wang Chen, who has now taken over He's responsibility as the women's team coach, reached the singles final before losing to Zhu Lin of China for the gold medal. It is also the best result Hong Kong has achieved at the world event.
Hong Kong will be represented by veteran Zhou Mi and Yip Pui-yin in Paris and they will be joined by Hu Yun and Chan Yan-kit in the men's singles. The women's doubles, men's doubles and mixed doubles will each send one pair, too.
'Zhou has been troubled by [injuries] and has failed to regain her best, while Yip has also been struggling with her form,' said the head coach.
'But both players have shown some positive signs recently when they reached the final of the Malaysia Grand Prix. Hopefully, they can build on that success and regain their top form and confidence.'
Zhou beat Malaysia's No1 Wong Mew Choo on her way to the final, while Yip, the eventual champion, also defeated top seed Pi Hongyan of France in the semis. It was Yip's first victory in a Grand Prix level tournament, while Zhou also achieved her best result on the world tour since winning the Singapore Super Series in June 2009. The duo will also be He's main hopes for the Guangzhou Asian Games - four years after Wang Chen defeated Yip in an all-Hong Kong final in the Doha Games.
'There are only two entries for one country in each discipline at the Asian Games which means China, who currently have six players in the world's top 10, can send only two. If Zhou and Yip, who are both quality players, can return to their best form in time for the Guangzhou Games, they cannot be discarded,' said He.
'Zhou was the Pusan Asian Games champion in 2002 and it will be interesting to see how she performs when representing Hong Kong in Guangzhou.'
While his attention still focuses a lot on the women's team, He understands his new responsibility as the head coach will be to push forward the whole Hong Kong badminton team. 'Before I only needed to carry out the duty as the women's team coach, but my new role has a much bigger vision and mission,' said the head coach. 'I am confident I can handle the new job well as I have been here for almost 20 years and have grown with the sport.'