2020 vision

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong squash ace Annie Au Wing-chi will be in her 30s by the time the 2020 Olympic Games come around. But the world No 7 believes it will not be too late for her to compete for a coveted Olympic medal as the sport makes a new push for inclusion in the Games.

'I think I can still be in contention for an Olympic medal if that [inclusion] happens,' said the 22-year-old, who is Hong Kong's highest ranked squash player ever. 'Representing your sport and your country at the Olympic Games is the dream of every athlete. After our success at the last Asian Games in Guangzhou, people kept asking me, 'When are you going to win a medal at the Olympics?' If squash becomes an Olympic sport, it will draw more people to the game and there will also be more government support.

'I know the world governing bodies are working hard on achieving Olympic status and as a player I am in full support of the bid,' said Au, who won two silver medals in Guangzhou.

Having failed in its attempt to gain entry to next summer's London Games and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, squash, along with seven other sports - baseball, softball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboard and wushu - is bidding for a spot at the 2020 Games.

A ninth sport - which will be removed from the Olympic programme after next year's London Games - will join the list of bidders in February 2013. The International Olympic Committee will vote on the 2020 programme in September 2013.

To form a united front for the bid, the Women's International Squash Players Association (Wispa) will change its name to Women's Squash Association (WSA), to come in line with the men's counterpart - the Professional Squash Association (PSA), while the World Squash Federation, the world governing body, will also launch a series of promotional activities for Olympic inclusion.

It has already appointed world number one Nicol David as an ambassador for the campaign. At the World Open in Rotterdam this month, the 28-year-old Malaysian said after winning a record sixth title in a row she would happily 'trade all her world titles for an Olympic gold'.

'I think Nicol will be too old for the 2020 Games, even if we can get there,' Au said. 'But it also shows how much the Olympics mean to a world-class player.'

Au lost to world number four Laura Massaro of England in the second round in Rotterdam, but had no complaints after the defeat.

'Laura is enjoying probably her best days in squash and has been chosen as the Wispa Player of the Year ahead of Nicol. It's tough to beat her,' said Au. 'I have never got past the second round at the World Open, but with more exposure to top-level tournaments I think it's only a matter of time before I make a breakthrough.'

Au, a student at the Polytechnic University who turned to full-time squash last year in preparation for the Asian Games, believes she has made remarkable progress since then.

'I was only the world number 12 at the beginning of year but have now reached number seven. This is a big step forward and to be honest, I am even a bit surprised myself,' she said. 'I did very well in two big tournaments earlier this year by reaching the semi-finals. After discarding some of the poor results from last year, my ranking shot up like a rocket.

'This has been a wonderful year for me, the best since I started playing squash at the age of 12. But I also recognise the road ahead will not be easy as it is very competitive at the highest level. At the same time there are new, younger players challenging you.'

Her main aim now is to consolidate her top-10 ranking before trying to break into the top four. 'If I can stay in the top 10, it means I will gain automatic entry into the main draw of tournaments and not have to go through the qualifiers. Nowadays, even the qualifying rounds are not easy and sometimes you are already exhausted after two rounds of qualifiers,' she said.

'With more exposure, I can fine-tune my skills, improve my speed, consistency and mental toughness. These are the requirements before I can break through to another level.

'I don't know how long it will take, one year or two years, but I am confident I can do so and take Hong Kong squash to a higher level.'

Au has taken over from Rebecca Chiu Wing-yin, now a elite trainer at the Sports Institute, as the leading Hong Kong player, but with that comes pressure. Chiu won a gold medal for Hong Kong at the 2002 Busan Asian Games in South Korea and had a career-high world ranking of 13 in 2007.

'Rebecca has done a lot for the sport and I am excited that the baton has now passed to me,' Au said. 'In fact, Rebecca is the one who inspired me to take up squash.

'We both attended the same primary school in Sha Tin, but not at the same time, of course. After she became an elite player, she often returned to the school to talk to us about squash and to demonstrate how the game was played. I was impressed by her skills and so I decided to join the Stars of the Future programme at the Sports Institute and became a squash player.

'Rebecca was pretty much on her own when playing at the highest level, but the depth of the squad has improved since then. The coaches are very supportive as are other members of staff at the Sports Institute. Joey [Chan Ho-ling] is another player who can compete at the top level while there are many others coming through the ranks.'

To maintain her top-10 ranking, Au will need to do well at the Hong Kong Open, which begins this week at Squash Centre followed by the semi-finals and finals at the Piazza of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. All the world's best players, headed by newly crowned World Open champion David and world number two Jenny Duncalf of England, will be in contention.

'I am drawn to take on Kasey Brown, the world number six from Australia, in the second round, and this is going to be an important clash. No player from Hong Kong has ever reached the third round in our premier event,' said Au. 'I want to be the first. But Brown is a powerful and aggressive player and very difficult to handle. I call on all squash fans to come along and support me and Hong Kong squash.'