Point-scoring issues that have dogged the Hong Kong triathlon squad in its bid to retain its elite-sport status at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) seem set to become a thing of the past.
The newly motivated squad have bagged a number of medals in recent events, and will race in Japan before doing a quick turnaround and heading to Kazakhstan for more opportunities.
Patrick Kelly, who took over as head coach last September, has breathed new life into the team with a revamped training programme and a fresh approach.
Canadian Kelly has set two benchmarks - to retain their elite-sport status at the HKSI and to win a medal at next year's Asian Games in Incheon.
"It is of course vital that the squad retains elite-sport status so we can continue to enjoy the funding and also the full range of facilities available at the HKSI," said Kelly, 55.
"We now have four of the necessary nine points needed, but to be honest we could have won all nine points at the Asian Triathlon Championships in the Philippines in April had we been a little more lucky.
"Our junior athletes performed very well and scored a maximum four points. If we'd had a couple more senior athletes in point-scoring positions we could have wrapped up the funding issue right there.
"We also won a bronze medal in the mixed relay event at the Asian Championships, and we were just outside the points in another couple of events.
"I've seen many positive improvements from our athletes over the past nine months, which has been very encouraging. We're taking small steps, but everything's looking good for the future," Kelly said.
Andrew Patrick, chairman of the Hong Kong Triathlon Association selection committee, said the squad was "now going in a very good direction".
Patrick said that one year ago the squad had little strength in depth, but had now gone from two full-time athletes to eight, a number that will likely increase to 10 by the end of the year.
"The standard of performance is higher than ever before," he said. "If we continue to achieve the targets we have set ourselves we should exceed 10 points by the end of next year."
Kelly said there was now a good chemistry within the team and this was being demonstrated with podium finishes. "Dickson Tam had his best-ever finish in the Asian Championships by finishing 10th. It was a very good result and has given him a lot of confidence.
"I was also pleased to see Andrew Wright come back into the squad and race in the Philippines, where he finished eighth, as he has a lot to offer. He's still very fit and extremely competitive so he can contribute a lot.
"Andrew is also a very good coach, and he is now developing a number of junior athletes with tremendous athletic potential.
"Our swim coach, Neil Harvey, has done a great job in bringing more out of the squad, and we have seen a 40 per cent improvement in coming out of the water with the front pack. We rarely had anyone in the front pack before.
"We're using the new pool at the HKSI for training but we're also doing a lot more open water training, which I feel is having a significant effect on our results. The athletes are responding well to the higher work expectations.
"Perry Wong and Hilda Choi have both done very well over the past few months - in fact, Perry has medalled in each of his last three races. Both he and Hilda won gold medals in a recent event in Sumatra."
Wright, 30, will once again wear the Hong Kong strip in Japan and is relishing the prospect of further competition.
"I'm looking forward to Sunday's race, and hopefully the team will come back next week with more medals," Wright said. "The mentality is completely different now - the team has never trained so hard."
Kelly said Hong Kong's success had not gone unnoticed by other Asian teams.
"One of the most satisfying things has been the positive feedback I've received from other Asian coaches, particularly from the Japanese and Chinese associations," he said. "They've basically said it's good to see the Hong Kong squad finally making significant steps forward.
"However, we're not content to simply develop the athletes we already have. We are constantly looking to bring more juniors into the sport. We will host an athlete recruitment and talent ID programme next month, and to everyone I emphasise that our athletes have to 'dream big' so that they can be successful in Asia, not just in Hong Kong."Topics: Triathlon Hong Kong Sports Institute Asian Games Athletics Sport in Hong Kong