• Mon
  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 1:23am

Oar-inspiring teammates

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2012, 12:00am

Canoeing, or kayaking, has been an Olympic event since 1936. But in Hong Kong - despite China's traditional interest in dragon boat racing - canoeing has been an organised team sport for only two years.

Ryan Ng Kan-nam and Jeff Cheung Tsz-chung, two leading members of the Hong Kong team, are schoolmates at Tsang Pik Shan Secondary School in Sha Tin.

Their friendly rivalry has helped their school to have the strongest boys' canoeing team in Hong Kong.

Ryan, 19, the captain of the school team, is regarded as the 'king' of inter-school competitions. He won the gold medal - beating Jeff into second place each time - in all three individual kayak events they entered at last year's Hong Kong inter-school tournament, over 200m, 500m and 1,000m. The two friends also teamed up to win the two-man 1,000m kayak race.

While Ryan is the youngest member of Hong Kong's senior squad, he believes he isn't at a disadvantage because he can learn from experienced canoeists.

'My other teammates are all in their 20s or 30s, so this is a good opportunity to gain experience from them,' the Form Six student says.

Jeff, 16, was a keen member of the Windsurfing Association of Hong Kong until his growing success in junior canoeing led him to switch sports permanently last December.

'I didn't achieve anything outstanding as a windsurfer, but I discovered that I'm good at kayaking,' the Form Four student says. 'I've got long arms, which is an advantage in paddling.'

He and Ryan have won numerous junior and senior trophies, with Jeff racing as a junior at last year's National Intercity Games and Ryan racing at the Asian Championships in Iran in 2009 and again last year.

The two, who have formed a close 'brotherly' bond through their shared passion for canoeing, both live near Ma On Shan. They train together at the Hong Kong Canoe Union, in Shek Mun, Sha Tin.

'We get on well and always chat when we ride our bikes home after training,' Jeff says. 'Apart from canoeing, we can talk about whatever is on our minds.'

Their strong friendship means they can be frank and critical about one another's efforts and progress. Ryan, as the more experienced of the two, is sure to point out whenever he sees Jeff failing to meet the demanding training standards of the squad.

'I spend time with senior athletes, so I have had to learn a strong sense of self-discipline,' he says. 'Sometimes, I can tell if Jeff hasn't finished his assigned fitness exercises. So I will go back with him to make sure he finishes. I also have to give him punishments - doubling or tripling the original number of exercises.'

Jeff blushes as Ryan adds with a smile: 'I always know if and when Jeff slacks off.'

Yet Jeff says he is happy to follow Ryan's instructions. 'The exercise may be tough, but when Ryan orders me to do it all again, I just do it,' he says. 'I know I have to do all I can to close the gap on Ryan. He's at a different level so I need to get closer to his times.'

Jeff's efforts have helped him to improve quickly; like Ryan, he joined Hong Kong's team in 2010, and already he is a core member of the junior team.

This year, many major events have been suspended because most professional canoeists are preparing for this summer's London Olympics. But the guys don't mind.

'It's good news for Jeff and me because we'll have plenty of time to get ourselves ready for next year's competitions,' Ryan says.

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