Barton Lui can't blame lack of team doctor for disappointing result

Olympic skater does himself a disservice in suggesting lack of personalised medical help was to blame for disappointing result

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 February, 2014, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 February, 2014, 10:09pm

Barton Lui Pan-to, Hong Kong's first male athlete at a Winter Olympics, got more than his deserved share of the limelight after becoming embroiled in controversy following his early exit from the Sochi Games. The short-track skater finished fifth in his heat in the 1,500 metres and then told our man on the spot, Jeremy Walker, he would "treasure this moment" for the rest of his life and "share it with my friends". He added: "They did not really care what my result is, or whether I am going to get a gold medal, because I am here already."

All well and good, that is, until he later moaned on radio that he had been troubled by old injuries and that the absence of a team doctor had left him below his physical peak when he lined up for the qualifier. He was effectively making excuses and implying that if a doctor had been there he might have done better.

As excuses go, this is lame, pinning the blame on the lack of a doctor and as such raising the question of whether the Hong Kong Olympic Committee must be held responsible.

As excuses go, this is lame, pinning the blame on the lack of a doctor and as such raising the question of whether the Hong Kong Olympic Committee must be held responsible
Alvin Sallay

We have heard many excuses before. Some poor, some excellent - remember three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador blaming contaminated beef for a positive doping test, or golfer Rory McIlroy walking off halfway through a tournament and blaming it on a sore tooth. Then what about Richard Gasquet who was in the midst of a 12-month ban from tennis when he told a panel he tested positive for cocaine because he kissed a woman in a nightclub who had taken the drug.

Perhaps Hong Kong athletes should take some lessons in the art of excuses. I remember one, who shall be unnamed, taking part in the Summer Olympics in sailing and faring poorly. He was later quoted as saying "a freak sponge" which became entangled in the rudder had been the reason for his poor performance. Lui's apology was just as abject.

Yet it has struck a chord with many people, whose knee-jerk reaction was if the Hong Kong delegation to Sochi comprised seven people, why wasn't one of them a doctor? Many people believe our Olympic officials are having a jolly and that's hard to fault when you do the math: one athlete and six officials equals a freebie.

But of the six officials, two were there as International Olympic Committee guests - Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, and Pang Chung, its secretary-general. Of the other four, we had Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, who was the chef de mission (leader of the delegation), coach Lu Shuo, Hong Kong Skating Union president Yip Siu-yin, and lastly another official from the Hong Kong Olympic Committee who handled all the administrative work and acted as media liaison tasked with taking pictures.

Hong Kong had only four spots (including the athlete) and Yip's accreditation came from that given by the Russian organising committee to an attache. Every team has an attache and since Hong Kong's team was small, it was handed over to the head of the Hong Kong Skating Union.

Why wasn't that given to a doctor? Simply because it was felt that Hong Kong didn't need to take a doctor along as we had only one athlete and if there were any problems, he could make use of the medical facilities at the athletes' village. A doctor would not have been able to get the accreditation needed to get into the athletes' village or competition venue.

Pang said Lui had passed a medical test beforehand. "Any athlete who fails the medical test prior to major international games is not allowed to go. He was passed and he went to Sochi." Pang also says Hong Kong takes its own doctor along to a major games only if the athletic contingent is large, like "if we had 300 athletes".

One must not forget also that a strong official presence is needed at the Olympics. Under the Basic Law, we have been given only until 2047 to become a separate National Olympic Committee. Our identity after that will depend on the mandarins up north. Until then every opportunity must be used to keep our profile high and in this respect Fok and company have a huge responsibility.

Lui tried to suggest he could have done better if he had had a doctor. Wong summed it up best: "I have been an athlete myself and I understand how athletes can look for other reasons to blame after failing to achieve a good performance."