Chan joins HK gold rush in cross-country dazzler
Chan Chun-hing underlined cycling's growing reputation as the heavyweight of Hong Kong sport yesterday by winning the gold medal for cross-country racing in dramatic fashion.
The 29-year-old raised a clenched fist in triumph as he finished the gruelling 43.2-kilometre, eight-lap race in Dafushan in two hours, 11 minutes and 33 seconds, beating a group of 15 riders, including heavy pre-event favourite Kohei Yamamoto of Japan.
Four riders formed the leading bunch after the first lap but the gruelling course took its toll and the race was reduced to a straight duel between Chan and Yamamoto.
As the bell rang to signal the final lap, Chan held a slim lead but he had enough in reserve to push the pace and seal victory over his Japanese adversary by 15 seconds. China's Duan Zhiqiang was a further two minutes behind for bronze.
It was Hong Kong's second gold in six days. On Saturday, sprinter Lee Wai-sze won a gold medal in the women's track 500 metres time trial to give Hong Kong a perfect start at the Guangzhou Games. The riders continued their winning ways by bagging four silvers and one bronze before Chan's victory.
Cycling was the only sport that won two gold medals at the Doha Games four years ago, while table tennis clinched the most number of medals - five, comprising one gold, two silver and two bronze.
With Steven Wong a strong candidate for gold in the BMX race today, and several riders competing in the road race competitions next week, cycling is likely to add more silverware.
Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang paid glowing tribute to his charges, including Chan, who is the sole mountain biker in the squad.
'He is hard working and always gives his best in his training,' said the coach. 'He missed the Asian championship title a couple of times, but he never gives up and proved to us today he is capable of becoming the best in the region.
'While there is a good team spirit among the riders in the pursuit of excellence, we have also employed new scientific methods to foster our prospects in Guangzhou. A lot has been done to help improve their fitness and pre-Games high-altitude training in Yunnan also worked very well.'
Chan admitted the good results achieved by his teammates prior to the race had given him some pressure, but he was able to overcome it.
'I know I can be as good as them as long as I perform at my best,' he said. 'We had great preparation for the Asian Games and just needed one more step to complete it - a victory on the course - and it's given me the impetus to finish the job.'
Chan said he would share his joy with his girlfriend - teammate Wong Wan-yiu, who picked herself up after being involved in a painful crash to claim silver in the women's points race. 'When I saw her crash during the race, my heart almost jumped out,' said Chan. 'Luckily she could get back on the bike and finished brilliantly despite the injury. I am proud of her.'
His next target will be getting sufficient points to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
'I made it to the Beijing Games two years ago but was lapped approaching the finish. I want to go to London and do it again but this time I must finish the entire race,' he said.