Windsurfer Hayley Chan Hei-man has suspended her studies until 2016 to concentrate on competing for a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The 22-year-old was first admitted to the arts faculty of the University of Hong Kong in 2010, but she was given a sabbatical to prepare for the 2012 Summer Games in London. Students are usually only granted a maximum two-year extension to complete a three-year degree, meaning she would have had until 2015 to finish her studies.
"It did worry me a bit as I also want to prepare fully for the 2016 Olympics without giving up my university place," said Chan, who was selected last week as one of Hong Kong's eight outstanding sports stars of 2012.
"Thanks to the support of the university, I can temporarily get myself out of studies and resume the course after the Rio Games. There's no need to observe the five-year rule to finish a degree."
Chan, who had her spleen removed due to a training accident before the 2012 Games, came 12th in London, the best-placed Asian windsurfer.
"The result boosted my confidence for a better performance in Rio," she said. "Of course, I still have to qualify for the Brazil Games, which cannot be achieved without a lot of hard work over the next couple of years. But since there is no need to attend to my studies at the same time, I'm very confident of making it before I go to Rio to challenge for a medal."
Chan has moved to third place in the RS:X world rankings that were released last week.
"This is my highest ranking ever, perhaps because of a fourth place finish in the World Cup regatta in Miami in February," she said. "It is a good beginning and I hope I can build from here."
Chan's next race will be another World Cup regatta in Palma de Majorca, Spain from March 30 to April 6 before a series of competitions across Europe. But the boardsailor and her fellow athletes may miss the National Games in Liaoning in September.
"The Games dates clash with the pre-Asian Games regatta in Incheon and we are still considering our options," said Dennis Chau Wai-keung of the Hong Kong Windsurfing Association. "The Incheon regatta is very important because it will give us key information on what it will be like for next year's Asian Games, which is a major target for our windsurfers. We may just send some potential athletes to China for the National Games while the seniors will compete in Incheon. A decision will be made soon."
Vicky Chan Wai-kei, who lost the internal selection for the London Olympic Games to Hayley Chan, is likely to appear again for the Pre-Asian Games Regatta. The 32-year-old gave birth to twin girls three months ago and is now working on physical training before getting back into her sporting career. But Chan is likely to start in the IMCO class, which will be contested in Incheon and at the Asian Games, and not the Olympic RS:X class.