The future of triathlon as an elite sport in Hong Kong is at risk after the Olympic Committee cut its Asian Games team in half. Only two triathletes - Daniel Lee Chi-wo and Andrew Wright - will compete in Guangzhou in November.
The Hong Kong Triathlon Association planned to send four competitors, but the hardline stance on selecting athletes 'who will be competitive' and 'have a realistic chance of doing well' has cost two women their places.
Joyce Cheung Ting-yan and Leanne Szeto Shui-yan were put forward by the association but rejected by the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee. Triathlon chiefs then made an appeal for Edith Li Yik-lam to be included after she put together a string of good results, including a good finish in Kazakhstan, which took her to fifth in the ITU Asian rankings and inside the top 140 on the Olympic qualifying rankings. But her bid was also rejected.
Olympic committee secretary general Pang Chung said this week 'every sport has to prove they will be competitive and can win a medal'.
Despite a string of strong performances from the junior squad, the Triathlon Association has not yet reached the required benchmark of nine points needed to retain its elite status at the Sports Institute. With elite status come more funding and resources. It has 8.75 points, with the Asian Games being its last points-scoring opportunity. The system is complicated, with both junior and senior results needed in the tally and weighted accordingly.
Lee has already contributed three points thanks to a bronze medal at last year's National Games in Shandong and if he finishes in the top three in Guangzhou then the elite status and government funding would be safe for another four years.
By a strange quirk of the points-scoring system, Wright could get the sport over the line if he finishes in the top eight in Guangzhou.
Due to the fickle nature of triathlon, race favourites often fail to finish races because so many things can go wrong, especially during the 40km bike section. Punctures and crashes are common.
The decision to not send a women's team means the possibility of a 'lucky medal' has been taken away.
'Winning a medal in Guangzhou will be tough, but in reality everyone on the start line is capable of winning a medal,' national coach Ruth Hunt said.'In regional events our athletes are constantly up against six Japanese, six Korean and six Chinese athletes and we're winning medals, but in the Asian Games there are just two from each nation.
'Obviously, we were very disappointed to learn that none of our girls had been selected, and we went through the process of appeal. Unfortunately, our appeal was also turned down so we will be sending only Andrew and Daniel to Guangzhou. As a squad we've been performing very well the past year or so and our results are there to bear this out - we have great strength in depth.
'Ivan Lo Chin-hin's gold medal in the Asian Championships [in the Philippines in May] was a clear indication of just what our squad members are capable of. We were very unlucky that Ho King-fun dropped from the bronze medal-winning position into fourth with the finish line in sight in the same race. Had he held on to third we would have had our nine points secured by now.'