Hong Kong are on the board after winning their first two gold medals in squash at the East Asian Games in Tianjin yesterday.
Joey Chan Ho-ling drew first blood in the women’s final after a hard-earned 3-1 win over Li Dongjin of China at the Tianjin Sports Centre, followed by Max Lee Ho-yin’s straight-games victory over Huang Cheng-yao of Taiwan in the men’s event.
Chan was leading 2-0 before the mainlander clawed back one game, but the second seed, who repeatedly studied video of Li’s semi-final victory over Hong Kong’s top-seeded Annie Au Wing-chi the previous night, dug deep to hold her nerve before wrapping up the title with a 12-10, 11-5, 6-11, 11-9 victory.
It was the first gold medal for the 300-member Hong Kong delegation. As hosts of the 2009 Games, the squash team made a clean sweep of all seven gold medals, but this year only four golds are on offer in this sport.
A delighted Chan said the victory was a huge relief.
“I haven’t done very well so far this year with a lot of ups and downs, and all I wanted was to win the gold medal to prove myself,” said the 25-year-old, who won two golds at the last Games in the team and doubles events.
“But I wasn’t really thinking about winning Hong Kong’s first gold because Li put me under a lot of pressure. She beat our top seed [Au] in the semi-finals and continued her good form today with a lot of support from the crowd but, fortunately, I was able to hang in there and finish the job.”
Lee then scored the double for Hong Kong in the men’s final, thrashing his Taiwanese opponent 11-6, 11-5, 11-8.
“I usually fail at the last hurdle so I am very happy today because I proved I can do it at a major games,” said the top seed, who lost to teammate Lau Siu-wai in the final at the last Games in Hong Kong. “The victory confirms our dominance in the region and also serves as good preparation for the 2014 Asian Games, which is my next target. Today’s success is all down to the support of my parents, wife, coaching staff and friends, so I’d really like to say a big thank you to them.”
Coach Tony Choi Yuk-kwan was full of praise for Chan and Lee. “Everybody was saying that winning gold here would be a piece of cake, but they couldn’t possibly have imagined the pressure the players were under,” said Choi. “We all know Joey is a better player than Li, but she still had to prove this on the court.
“Today she was under huge pressure to win and I am happy she could deliver. Max has been in good form and although he was a bit tense in the final, he still came through.”
The team events start today with Hong Kong the favourites to win both titles.
Chef de Mission Kenneth Fok Kai-kong thanked squash for making the breakthrough for Hong Kong, but would not predict how many golds the city would win at the Games. “We don’t want to put pressure on our athletes,” said Fok.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong took silver in the women’s changquan through wushu exponent Zheng Tianhui. Sun Xiaomei of China captured gold on 9.72 points, while Zheng was second on 9.67. Yu Chih-hsuan of Taiwan was third.
Hong Kong also added two more bronze medals yesterday – fencer Ho Siu-in in the women’s individual sabre and diver Sharon Chan in the women’s one-metre springboard.
The Hong Kong men’s soccer team, the defending champions, take on China in their opening match at Tuanbo Stadium tonight.
Coach Yeung Ching-kwong warned the hosts, who lost their opening match to South Korea 2-1, would be out to make amends. “China will probably play an attacking game in order to revitalise their hopes,” Yeung said. “We must stay composed in defence and cannot afford giving away any cheap goals.”