Chinese Olympians receive raucous, rapturous reception in Hong Kong

Highly anticipated three-day trip saw all 5,700 tickets for events snapped up in a matter of hours, amid fears that localists would take the opportunity to express anti-mainland views

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 3:53pm

China’s Olympic medallists touched down at Hong Kong International Airport just before noon on Saturday, marking the start of a highly anticipated three-day visit to the city.

The 64-strong delegation, including some of the country’s top sports stars, arrived on Air China flight CA651 from Beijing at 11:43am.

Leading the delegation off the Boeing 787-9 jet and onto the tarmac was Liu Peng, director of the State General Administration of Sports.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor received the delegation.

Some 180 cheering primary school children waved China and Hong Kong flags as the delegation walked along the red carpet.

With the men dressed in red jackets and the women in yellow jackets, the athletes were presented with bouquets as they stepped off the plane.

The athletes’ visit had been awaited with enthusiasm. All 5,700 tickets on offer to the public for the events were snapped up within a few hours by hundreds of people on Monday. Scalpers had got in on the act, with some of the HK$20 admission tickets being sold online for as much as HK$1,165.

The trip, coming about a week before the Hong Kong Legislative Council election, is seen in some circles as a Beijing charm offensive to ease tensions and boost support for pro-government candidates.

There had been worries that localists would take the opportunity to protest and express their anti-mainland views, but they apparently gave the cold shoulder to the athletes’ arrival, deciding to focus on their campaigns for the election instead. No protests were held at the airport or the hotel where the athletes are staying.

After landing, Liu thanked Hong Kong fans for their support: “We already feel the fire-like passion of Hong Kong people. We are very touched and thrilled.”

Liu attributed the success of the medallists to the country’s economic development and society’s progress.

Security to be stepped up at Hong Kong hotel ahead of Olympic stars’ visit

“We are also grateful to Hong Kong people for their support to the country’s development in various aspects, including the sports industry ... I wish Hong Kong a better future,” Liu said.

Among the delegation are 42 gold medallists, including the 12 “golden girls” of the women’s volleyball team and their celebrated coach Lang Ping, diving star Wu Minxia and swim star Sun Yang. Swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who won a bronze medal and who has shot to fame with her charming, frank “funny girl” image, is also with the group.

Fu is one of the most high profile athletes in the delegation and appeared excited as she arrived.

Since she did not get a gold medal, she stood at the back of the pack. As she headed to the van at the end of the speeches, she waved and smiled at reporters.

In her welcoming speech, Carrie Lam thanked the central government for arranging the visit and to let Hongkongers share in the joys of their victory.

“This shows the country’s strong support of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the deep relations between the people of two places,” Lam said.

The athletes left the airport in four buses for the InterContinental Grand Stanford hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, where they will be staying until Monday.

After a welcome ceremony and press conference at the hotel, the athletes will meet Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at a reception at Government House, attend a dinner party at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and enjoy some free time in the evening.

On Sunday, the athletes will stage table tennis and diving demonstrations at Queen Elizabeth Stadium and Victoria Park, as well as a variety show.

They will also have a meet-and-greet session with youngsters in Ma On Shan and visit the Hong Kong Sports Institute to meet local athletes.

Meanwhile, before noon on Saturday, sport fans were already queuing outside the hotel where the delegation are staying in the hope of catching a glimpse of their heroes, or maybe even getting a selfie.

A badminton fan said he hoped to meet the champion Chen Long at the hotel as he failed to get a ticket to attend the official demonstration.

Tourists who are staying at the hotel said they were very surprised that the national team would also be there.

Outside the hotel, staff hoisted red banners that read “Congratulations China!” as a welcoming gesture, and security measures around the premises were in place. Metal barriers were erected and police patrolled the area.

As the athletes arrived at the hotel at around 1pm, about 150 fans, a mixed crowd of locals and mainland tourists, greeted them with claps, cheers and photos.

The crowd repeatedly chanted “Fu Yuanhui”, the name of the swimmer who was on the first bus.

“I can’t believe we could get this close,” one man said in Putonghua.

The crowd also called out for swimmer Sun Yang, whose arrival caused a stir with female fans in particular. Women’s volleyball team coach Lang Ping, smiling, waved back from the bus as she heard the crowd chanting her name.

Lin Yizhi, from Guangzhou, who is doing her postgraduate studies in Japan, said she made the trip to Hong Kong purely to catch a glimpse of her favourite table tennis stars Ma Long and Zhang Jike.

Florence Liu, one of the new friends Lin just met, said her support was evenly distributed among the athletes.

But when asked who her “man god” - favourite male athlete in Chinese - was, the Guangzhou native who works in Hong Kong said undoubtedly: “Ma Long. He looked so cool.”