Sarah Lee on top of the world with gold in women’s sprint – more tears in memory of late coach Pu Linjun
Hong Kong cyclist wins her third medal just weeks after her mentor dies of a heart attack
Sarah Lee Wai-sze returned to the international fold with a bang as the Hong Kong rider took gold in the women’s sprint at the track World Cup series in Apeldoorn, Netherlands on Sunday – a victory dedicated to her late coach Pu Linjun, who died in October after suffering a heart attack.
After returning empty-handed from the Rio Olympic Games this summer, Lee’s future was under a cloud but the sprint gold medal on Sunday, her second in the World Cup series, should give her sufficient confidence as she gradually builds towards the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Lee, who cried in memory of Pu when receiving silver and bronze medals in Saturday’s events, proved to her doubters that she was still a world-class cyclist. The silver came in the 500-metre time trial while the bronze was in her pet event, the keirin.
Pu had worked with the Hong Kong cycling team in 21 World Cup series events since his arrival in 2010.
The 29-year-old, who missed the opening round of the series in Glasgow last week, came second in the qualification for the sprint (200 metres) with a time of 11.119 seconds, sending her straight into the quarter-finals finals under UCI’s new track rules.
Head coach Shen praised Lee's performance, saying his charge had become a matured rider with competitiveness at the highest level.
"She could still maintain her form after the high intensity training in preparation for the Rio Games and indeed Lee only had one practice session for adaptation following her arrival in Apeldoorn before starting a total 13 races," said the coach. "Her physical and mental conditions were hardly affected because her basic ability is always there and can perform to her best."
Great Britain’s Katy Merchant, who was expected to be Lee’s biggest rival and won bronze in Rio, withdrew in the round of 16.
The Hong Kong rider made it all the way to the final after routing Nicky Degrendele, of Belgium, Australia’s Courtney Field and Olena Starikova, of Ukraine, before facing Tania Calvo, of Spain, in the gold medal race.
Lee, who also beat the Spaniard in the 500-metre time trial into third place, made no mistake with victories in both races of the best-of-three final.
The last time Lee won a World Cup gold medal in the sprint was in 2013 when she defeated Rebecca James of Great Britain 2-1 in Cali, Colombia. James was the sprint silver medallist at the Rio Games.
In the men’s omnium – now reduced from six to four events – Leung Chun-wing came ninth out of 19 riders.
Lee’s three-medal haul puts Hong Kong in fifth position in the overall medal standings in Apledoorn before the World Cup series move to Cali and then Los Angeles in February and finally the World Championships in Hong Kong in April 2017.
Although sprinter Lee is still an important figure of the team preparing for the 2017 track World Championships in Hong Kong, the 2017 National Games and the Asian Games in Indonesia the following year, Shen said they would put in more effort in developing riders in the endurance events.
"The changes of rules in the track competitions and the speculation of two additional events on the track for the 2020 Tokyo Games on top of the 10 current programmes have given us more room for developing endurance events," said Shen. "We will also start a new preparation cycle with new roles of the team members targeting these changes in order to achieve results."
The Hong Kong team will continue to use their training bases in the mainland in order to prepare for these major competitions.