Triathlon: Kelly's priority - preserving elite status
New HK coach aims to retain elite sport status
Despite having some of the best training facilities in the world, the Hong Kong Triathlon Association is in danger of losing its elite funding status at the Sports Institute (HKSI) unless the national squad can win the required nine performance points over the next two years.
New national coach Patrick Kelly believes Hong Kong has enough talent to score those all-important points, but said there were a few things lacking that could mean the difference between success and failure.
"Two aspects that are missing are road riding for bike training and the opportunity for soft surface running - big parks with grass areas," said Kelly, who took over his new role almost two months ago.
"I'd love to see our athletes given the opportunity to run around the grass track at Penfold Park, and another location I have considered is the golf club at Fanling.
"When the sun sets and the golfers go home it would be great if our athletes could train on grass. We used to do this in Canada - we would go out at 5pm or 6pm and would all wear headlamps and then run around the perimeter of the golf course twice a week.
"I think this would help our athletes because the impact of grass is much less on the joints than the hard surfaces they train on now."
Kelly, 54, has around 20 athletes under his wing at the HKSI, most of whom, he said, showed a considerable amount of talent.
The main task facing Kelly is to upgrade the training programme laid down by his predecessor, Ruth Hunt, and guide the national squad to those points-scoring results.
"I was pleasantly surprised with what I found when I arrived," Kelly said. "I believe there's some good talent here. I think the transition between myself and Ruth was a little bit of a challenge for some and maybe some of the athletes lost their way a little during that time.
"The first thing I did was to review the statistics. The results of the juniors and the under-23s indicated they're missing about a minute to a minute and a half on the swim, and that really takes them out of the race. They're always chasing; you've got to be an incredible runner to make that up."
Kelly brings with him nearly 30 years of triathlon experience, and also Neil Harvey, a fellow Canadian and a highly regarded performance swim coach.
"I wanted Neil to come in, even though I come from a swimming background myself, because he's very experienced, and I will have a good coach that I can rely on and trust when I'm not here," said Kelly, who was born into a bilingual family in French-speaking Quebec.
"What we've seen in the pool is quite good. Some of the junior boys and girls have great potential. If we can just address the gap that we perceive to be missing we will achieve the required results."
Kelly was one of the pioneers of triathlon in the early 1980s, and after graduating from the University of Victoria with a degree in sports science he established the University of Victoria Triathlon Club, an organisation that still exists today.
Athletes from across Canada moved to Vancouver to train with the club, including Carol Montgomery, who went on to become one of the world's leading triathletes. "Carol won a number of World Cup events, and in 1991 she won the silver medal at the world championships," said Kelly. "I worked with her for a number of years before I moved to Japan."
Kelly spent 11 years working as a coach in Japan, and during that time added a third language to his repertoire. He plans to make Cantonese his fourth.
"I went to Japan initially to coach triathlon, but it was way too early and I couldn't speak the language," he said. "They wanted me to race but I had retired by then, so I moved from Tokyo to Osaka and started coaching there.
"My familiarity with Asia - I visited Hong Kong a few times while I was in Japan - was part of the reason I took the job in Hong Kong."
Kelly was also somewhat familiar with the Hong Kong triathlon squad as he helped to provide a training base for Daniel Lee Chi-wo and Tania Mak So-ning when they were preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games.
"Ruth brought them over to Canada to train for the Olympic Games and I organised the accommodation and swimming space for them - I tried to help them out as any coach would," said Kelly.
Before moving to Hong Kong, Kelly worked as the Canadian national triathlon coach, and among his squad was Beijing Olympic silver medallist Simon Whitfield.
Kelly says that with the Asian Games taking place in two years and the All China Games next year he thinks some of the junior boys in particular are potential top-eight finishers, which would translate into the points the association needs in its quest to retain its elite sport status.