Windsurfer goes for gold after getting a sabbatical

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 2011, 12:00am


Windsurfer Hayley Chan Hei-man, 20, dreams of emulating Lee Lai-shan and winning an Olympic gold medal for Hong Kong at the Games in London next year.

But first, she has to make it onto the team and fend off stiff competition from Vicky Chan Wai-kei, who went to the Beijing Olympics, to win the solitary ticket.

Realising she'd need full-time training, Hayley asked Hong Kong University, where she is a first-year student, if she could take a sabbatical from her studies. They said OK.

'The faculty of arts approved my application for leave of absence for one year, from January this year to January 2012,' Hayley said.

'According to the university's regulations, I cannot extend my three-year degree course for more than two years. Also I cannot be on leave for more than one year at a time.'

Like a few other educational institutions, HKU has been flexible in giving Hayley a chance to fulfil her sporting dreams. But will it be enough?

Hayley - a silver medallist at last year's Asian Games in Guangzhou and the first Hong Kong woman to win a gold medal at the International Sailing Federation's Youth Sailing World Championships, in Brazil in 2009 - is unsure. 'Stopping my studies for one year enables me to prepare and go for short-term goals - the 2012 Olympic trials,' she said.

'However, it does not allow me to make further plans, since my future then depends on how I do in the trials. Only if I win the selections will the university consider giving me further time away from my studies.'

Putting sport before studies paid off for Annie Au Wing-chi. Hong Kong's top female squash ace deferred her studies at Polytechnic University, where she is taking business management, and trained full-time before the Asian Games in December. She won two silver medals in Guangzhou, putting her on the path to becoming world No 10, the highest ranking a local woman has achieved.

'If there is a 10-year time frame [to finish a degree] offered to athletes by local universities, I think the athletes can put in more effort and can concentrate better on training and competition, because they don't need to worry about finishing their studies in a tight time frame,' Au, 22, said.

'The athletes may achieve better results at international competitions, which would benefit local sporting development. It's a win-win situation for athletes and society.'

PolyU has given Au six years to finish her degree. She plans to play full-time on the world circuit to improve her ranking and study part-time.

'But I know many athletes who are in the same position who have not been so lucky,' she said.

'My younger brother, Au Chun-ming, is an example. Chun-ming has only completed the first year of university and has a long way to go. I think a 10-year time frame to finish his degree would help him.'