Hong Kong's Cheung Chi-yip knows what it takes to become a world-class judoka but cannot take that risk unless his future is secured.
Cheung, 25, a full-time fireman, made his Olympic debut yesterday and the experience was short. He lasted three-and-a-half minutes in his under-73 kilogram first-round match, losing by a waza-ari to American Nicholas Delpopolo at the ExCel arena.
'My fitness level dropped dramatically after one third of the match and it was difficult matching my opponent's pace,' Cheung said. 'This is because I can only afford to train a third of the time of a full-time athlete.
'I already commit all of my rest time to training and have little personal time. I cannot risk giving up my full-time job for full-time training. I still have to support my family, and a fireman's job also gives me a secure future which you cannot find in sport.'
The chairman of the Hong Kong Judo Association, Wong Po-kei said Cheung was the best athlete in Hong Kong but he needed to climb to another level before he could become a truly world-class athlete. And that meant going abroad to find better training opponents and competition, he said.
'Judo is a combat sport and you need people to train with in order to get progress,' Wong said.
'Cheung is already the best in Hong Kong but he can't find anyone to train with and needs to go overseas for more regular training and competitions.
'But he can only do this at the expense of his full-time job. I don't think he is willing to commit to that.'
Wong urged the authorities to provide a long-time policy in sports to help those athletes who have the potential and are willing to go to the highest level.
'We know the government has injected a lot more financial resources to sport in recent years, but money cannot solve all the problems,' he said.
'We also need relevant long-term policies that help sports organisations and their athletes. Sport can't go it alone without the support of other sectors such as education and labour employment and this cannot be done without the help of the government.'
Like Cheung, a number of other Hong Kong athletes found the going tough yesterday. In the pool, Sze Hang-yu came last in her women's 200-metre freestyle heat in a time of one minute 59.92 seconds, while fencer Yeung Chui-ling was beaten in the first round of the women's individual epee, losing 15-11 to Kseniya Pantelyeyeva of Ukraine.
Hong Kong's badminton contingent brightened the mood somewhat, with Yip Pui-yin reaching the elimination round in the women's singles by upsetting seeded player Sung Ji-hyun of South Korea 2-0 (21-18, 23-21) in the final match in group J.
With two wins in a row in the group, Yip will now play the group I winner, likely to be Pi Hongyan of France, in the round of 16.
'My family has come to the venue to support me today and the match was also shown live in Hong Kong,' said Yip. 'This is a great victory against the world number eight.
'It's too early to say if I have regained the form I had when I won a silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games but today I felt pretty good. I was trailing 11-3 in the second set when my energy level dropped but I was able to hang in there and clawed back point by point.'
Badminton teammate Wong Wing-ki also provided a good spot of news as the 16th seed beat Edwin Ekiring of Uganda 21-10, 21-8 in his opening group match.