“OLYMPIC SWIMMING – Names of Cynthia Eager and Cheung Kin-man submitted”, announced the headline in the South China Morning Post on August 8, 1951, ahead of the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.
In 1950, the clubs of the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association banded together for a gala to raise HK$10,000 to send the territory’s first Olympians, “seven men, five women, and one coach/manager” to the Games. The effort fell short and on April 9, 1952, under the headline “Olympic Team Confirmed”, the Post reported Cheung and F.X. “Sonny” Monteiro would “compete in the 100, 400 and 1,500 metres free style, Cynthia Eager in the Women’s 100 and 400 metres free style, and Irene Kwok in the Women’s 200 metres breast strokes.”
Pride swelled with a July 9 headline, “H.K. Swimming Contingent Leaves Today – FIRST TIME IN HISTORY” and, in a sign of the times, the story noted the contingent was “taking to Helsinki a number of ivory ‘chops’ with the names of Games officials engraved in Chinese for presentation to these officials as a gift from Hong Kong”.
Stops along the road to Helsinki held many surprises for the athletes, who shared their experiences in a CNN interview reported in the Post on July 27. Eager said she “found Athens the best”, and there she had the “unusual experience” of being “served ice cream in the open air”. Kwok described the sweltering heat in Abadan, Iran, where “the temperature was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade!”
“Cheung Kin-man liked Geneva, but became tongue-tied when asked what impressed him most until Mr. Skinner [chairman of Hong Kong’s Olympic committee] came to his rescue and remarked that what Kin-man wanted to say was that he liked all the beautiful girls he saw.”
Monteiro had a less happy time, being “air-sick all the way from Hong Kong”.
Inevitably the opening ceremony was “carried out in pouring rain” and ultimately only Cheung reached the semi-finals, but the team was celebrated nonetheless.
“The Hong Kong Olympic team has set one record at Helsinki,” the Post reported on July 28, “the reputation of having made the greatest number of friends from among the 4,000 athletes of 62 nations”.