Leaving athletics coach urges patience
Despite talent, poor communication and slow pace of change frustrated Wright
Hong Kong's outgoing athletics coach, Paul Wright, has warned potential successors to be prepared for frustration, admitting he considered quitting just months into the job because of his inability to implement much-needed change quickly.
Wright insists there is plenty of local talent, and he was responsible for some impressive performances during his tenure, but there have also been obstacles he did not foresee.
"Basically, it's a cultural thing," said Wright, who will leave in November after two years, mainly because of fears over his son Caiden's health. "I've been used to things happening quickly under the high-performance model, and that's what I believed I was going to contribute to Hong Kong athletics.
"Things happened much more slowly than I anticipated, which was quite frustrating. I saw the benefits of the model work well in the US and Great Britain, and was certain that if I could implement the same system here we would see positive results.
"This has happened, but it could have happened sooner. My wife and I had serious discussions during the first three months, and asked ourselves whether we had made a mistake by coming here.
"Eventually, we decided it would be best for the children to carry on and to complete the two-year contract, but then Caiden started getting sick."
Since Wright took charge, 60 Hong Kong records (including junior records) have been lowered, and apart from the men's relay squad going to London as the sixth-ranked team in the world, home-grown athletes have taken their first ever medals at both the Asian Outdoor and Indoor Championships, an Asian marathon medal, and the first ever athletic medal in the World University Games.
Although Wright's strengths lie in middle-distance athletics, he has considerable knowledge of throwing and jumping events and has reintroduced several of those disciplines.
"Before I came to Hong Kong the HKAAA [Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association] struggled to maintain its elite sport status and, in fact, lost it for one year," Wright said. "We have scored enough points in each of the past three years to retain our elite status, which we only need to do over a four-year period.
"There's no doubt we have the athletic talent, and my job has been to nurture that talent and to take it to its next natural level, which is to be competitive in Asian events and then go on to be competitive and win medals in world-class events.
"I'm very proud of our men's sprint relay team for what they did in London. Their baton changes could have been a little better, but hey, this was the Olympics! To put things in perspective, the time they ran in the heat - 38.49 seconds - was the same time that won the bronze medal in the 2011 IAAF [International Association of Athletics Federations] World Championships in Daegu."
Wright is employed by the Hong Kong Sports Institute but is in essence working for the HKAAA. He said communication had been difficult at times and the pace at which things have been done is not what he had been used to in the US, Britain or Kenya, where he also coached.
"I sometimes felt as though my hands were tied - I felt we were losing time. Eventually I had to take a step back and let things happen at a slower pace."
On the positive side, Wright said he had received full support for his plan to take groups of athletes for overseas training.
"We went on month-long training camps to Europe and the US," he said. "These experiences proved invaluable."
Leading distance runner Michelle Lowry was upset to learn of his decision to leave. "It's going to be horrible," said Lowry. "He's been such an asset to the programme. I'm very sad, because he is such a good and knowledgeable coach. He has the scientific knowledge but he also understands how to motivate athletes."
Wright added: "The past two years have been professionally very rewarding, and I feel that once Caiden's health improves there might be another opportunity for me to continue my work with Hong Kong athletes."