Support system failing Hong Kong’s riders, says coach

Coach says rewarding medals only is flawed as Hong Kong fail to make road race podium for first time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 3:57am

Hong Kong's head cycling coach Shen Jinkang has slammed the government's athlete support system that only rewards medallists in major competitions.

This came after HK failed to medal in the men's individual road race at the National Games in Shenyang yesterday - the first time there has not been a Hong Kong rider on the podium since their debut in 1997.

We don't have a big enough pool of riders because our support system is not working well. The current system only rewards medallists at major competitions
Hong Kong's head cycling coach Shen Jinkang

Athletes get monthly stipends from the government for winning medals at major events such as the National Games, Asian Games and Olympics, and also receive sponsors' incentives.

Cheung King-lok, who won bronze in the men's time trial the previous day, was the fastest of the six Hong Kong riders, finishing the 190-kilometre race in Benxi, 100 kilometres south of Shenyang, in four hours 41 minutes and three seconds - a mediocre 19th out of 80.

Choi Ki-ho was 28th while veteran Wong Kam-po, the three-time National Games champion, came 50th.

Coach Shen said the road race team suffered because four of the riders had to race in track and mountain bike events before the competition.

"We don't have a big enough pool of riders because our support system is not working well," said Shen. "The current system only rewards medallists at major competitions, but can you tell me how many medallists in one race. It's only three. To win an event like the road race, it's not just the hard work and effort of the champion. The support of his five teammates is pivotal.

"But in the end, these five riders are sacrificing their own rewards as they will not be eligible for elite training [support] after failing to get any result.

"In the team meeting the night before the race, I told the team if we won the winner would have to share the sponsor's award with his teammates because the gold medal is won on the back of others' efforts. This is how road racing works."

According to Shen, two of his squad have quit because they always play the 'domestique' role and receive minimum support under the current system.

Siu Ka-ming, Sarah Lee Wai-sze's training partner, will leave after the Games and Choi Ki-ho is said to be quitting for a pro team. "The athletes do not get the fair share for their hard work and training. The administrators have to find a solution," Shen added.

Ma Guangtong of Shandong won the race in 4:40.09. "It is a difficult course but we worked well tactically as a team to beat the others," he said.Racing in his fifth National Games, Wong was bitterly disappointed.

"We had Cheung and Choi in the breakaway bunch with 20 kilometres left, but unfortunately they didn't have the required stamina to finish off the job," he said.

"Also, Hong Kong have become the target for the others because of our impressive record in the National Games. Whenever we attacked, other teams worked together to stop us from breaking away. It was tough.

"The road race team is facing a transition period as many of us also need to be involved in other disciplines. We have to sit down and discuss with the head coach to work out a future plan."