Ping-pong pro trio
For most Hong Kong teens, sport is just a hobby. But not to some young elite athletes.
Take table tennis players Daryl Hung, Li Hon-ming and Mak King-ho. The trio have turned professional with the goal of doing well at international tournaments.
Compared to other sports at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, table tennis has a much greater proportion of young full-time players. They start their careers relatively early - as they should.
Other strong teams in the sport, including China, Japan and South Korea, provide full-time training to young players from a very early age.
Daryl is a 15-year-old athlete who held the number 1 ranking in the Hong Kong boys' under-15 category last year. After taking part in the 2010/2011 inter-school tournament for Diocesan Boys' School, he decided to become a professional and dedicate himself full-time to the sport at the institute.
'I want to focus on the sport,' the young ace says. '[Being a professional] has given me the chance to play at some senior tournaments, like the qualifying matches at the China Open a few months ago. This would be impossible for me if I was still in school.'
Hon-ming turned professional four months ago while studying in Form Three at La Salle College. He defended his cadet boys' doubles title at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open earlier this month. 'I may hold the same title, but the feeling on the court was totally different,' he says. 'I was more confident, more mature and more determined to win.'
He trained seven days a week, with afternoon breaks on the weekend. Despite his gruelling schedule, Hon-ming, also 15, is just like other teens. He admits that now he is at the Sports Institute full-time, he misses his classmates at La Salle.
'I am facing a bottleneck in training and I am not sure I know how to progress,' he says. 'But I've told myself I will overcome the obstacles and become a better player.'
King-ho, the third member of the team, is 18, which may seem a bit 'old'. But he disagrees. 'I joined the junior squad last year and turned full-time with Hon-ming,' he says. 'When I look back on my secondary school career, I was not an outstanding player until I showed huge improvement last year. I believe I still have time [to become a top player].'
King-ho, who was runner-up last year at the Jing Ying Tournament, had never received proper training before joining the institute. Yet he loves the sport and is keen to succeed. He has had to change his game to suit intense, high-level matches. 'It was very hard for me to adapt at first,' he says. 'But after months of training, I am now getting used to the new style.'
The Form Five graduate from CCC Kwei Wah Shan College claimed a first division singles title for the first time last month.
The trio credit their coach Chan Kong-wah with inspiring them to work harder. One day, they hope to reward him in the best possible way: by representing Hong Kong in the Olympics.