Gymnasts back on top
Impressive performances in competition have helped gymnasts to regain their place among Hong Kong's elite athletes.
Two of Hong Kong's top gymnasts, Stone Shek Wai-hung and Calvin Ng Kiu-chung, have led the way by lifting the sport's standard in recent competitions, including regional tournaments such as the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships.
Their achievements have ensured the sport has received high ranking points in the government's list of criteria for awarding elite sports status.
'We have had to fight for the sport,' Stone, 19, says. 'Helping to get gymnastics its place back as an elite sport in Hong Kong has always been our target.'
Gymnastics lost its place among elite sports, backed by Hong Kong Sports Institute, in 2001.
Such a status ensures athletes competing in these sports - including badminton, cycling, fencing, rowing, swimming, windsurfing and wushu - receive comprehensive backing, including funding, world-class coaching and training and technical and nutritional support.
The funding gives athletes the best chance of winning medals in international competitions. Both Stone and Calvin are part of the institute's 2011-12 sport scholarship list and receive financial support to help them train and compete.
The duo are good friends, but as athletes their paths have diverged. Stone has been a full-time professional gymnast, based in Beijing, since 2009. He comes back to Hong Kong only a day or two before the start of a competition.
Calvin will start his degree at Hong Kong Baptist University this September, having just completed his associate degree course.
Young Post spoke to the duo before they left to compete in this month's Japan Cup 2011.
Hong Kong finished last out of the eight teams that were taking part, and were not expected to challenge for medals. All of their rivals are among the world's leading gymnastics nations, including China, Japan and the United States.
Calvin, who was injured, missed the all-round event, but took part in the team competition. Stone, whose best events are the pommel horse and parallel bars, finished 15th out of the 16 competitors in the all-round event.
Stone first trained with China's national team when he became a full-time professional aged 17. 'There are times I feel homesick when I am in Beijing alone, but this is the kind of sacrifice worth making so our dream of regaining elite status could come true,' he says.
Calvin, who is also 19, and specialises in rings, still lives in Hong Kong, but has found training and competing as a gymnast a challenge.
'In the past year, I have been a full-time student,' he says. 'There were days when I couldn't attend training on time as classes ended late, or I needed to start lessons early the next morning when training went on late the night before.
'I was very upset when I joined the team, after it had lost its elite status. I'm delighted to get it back.'
Poon King-hung, head coach of Hong Kong's gymnastics team, says: 'No one expected it would take a decade for gymnastics to be back as an elite sport. It is really great news for our team. I think our athletes, like Stone and Calvin, have done a really excellent job. Yet I have also reminded our athletes that they must keep up their standards and maintain their good results.
'The institute reviews its elite sports every two years. We need to work hard to avoid losing our place again.'
This summer Stone and Calvin will be preparing for October's World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, in Japan, which is the qualifying event for the 2012 London Olympics.
Stone must finish in the top 24 in the all-round final, if he is to make the London Games. 'I have never been nervous before, but this time I am,' he says. 'Competing in the Olympics has always been my dream and here is the chance.'
Calvin faces an even stiffer task - he needs to finish in the top two in the rings in Japan. 'I will not compete in the all-round event and it is really tough to qualify for individual events,' he says. 'I know I only have a slim chance, but I will try my best.'