Hong Kong Cycling Association begs young star Choi Ki-ho not to quit
One of city's most promising talents says his interest in the sport has waned, and he wants to pursue studies instead of joining pro team
Hong Kong officials are desperately trying to convince multi-talented young rider Choi Ki-ho not to quit the sport.
Choi, the heir apparent to Wong Kam-po and considered the best Hong Kong rider in recent years, told the Hong Kong Cycling Association his interest in the sport had waned.
The 22-year-old said he was returning to school to study business and he would not return to cycling, despite enjoying tremendous success since bursting onto the scene at the 2010 World Cup, winning a gold medal with Kwok Ho-ting in the madison in Beijing.
Choi's decision is even more surprising given that he also turned down a contract with one of the world's top Pro-Tour teams, Orica GreenEdge from Australia, who have on their books Simon Gerrans, winner of stage three at this year's Tour de France.
"We are greatly disappointed Ki-ho has made the decision to quit competition. Obviously, we don't want him to turn down such a great opportunity that has been offered to him by GreenEdge. We are trying our best to convince him to change his mind and at least defer his studies for one or two years because he is still young," said Hong Kong Cycling Association chairman Leung Hung-tak.
"I support all the Hong Kong athletes, being a former Hong Kong athlete myself. It's every cyclist's goal and dream to become a professional cyclist. To be offered a contract with a good team is not easy; you must have talent and Ki-ho definitely has tremendous talent. He is an even better hill climber than Wong Kam-po."
Choi has been now-retired Wong's chief lieutenant for years and his talents were further noticed in 2011 as a road racer when he became the youngest Tour of Korea winner at 19. But thoughts of quitting the sport came in mid-September after finishing a lowly 28th at the National Games in Shenyang.
"I have already decided to attend local university next year and pursue a business degree," Choi said. "I am very interested in business and finance. I can improve my communications skills as well. I have been cycling for a long time. At this moment, I won't be a full-time athlete any more," said Choi, a Hong Kong Sports Institute elite athlete since 2008.
"I haven't trained for two months already. My interest has waned. I have discussed my future plans with my coach [Shen Jinkang]. I still want to go back to school to further my studies. Perhaps, in the future, I will participate in local competitions and do some part-time cycling," said the 2010 Asian Games silver medallist.
A disappointed Shen said he hoped Choi would have a change of heart.
"It's very difficult to find someone like Ki-ho in Asia, who is very good in hill climbing. I support his decision. If he wants to come back to our team, he is always welcome," said Shen.
Leung said the association was doing "all they could'' to lure Choi back to the sport, including providing a personal sports psychologist.
Leung emphasised that Choi's departure was "not a money issue".
"He has very low motivation at the moment. He just doesn't want to cycle any more. His income as a full-time elite rider is already at the top bracket [HK$27,000 to HK$30,000] and if he joined Orica GreenEdge, his income would double. We were hoping he would join this team and still have time to represent Hong Kong at major events such as the Olympics and Asian Games," said Leung.
"From my past communications with him, we have already told him he could be a very successful pro rider. He should continue cycling and not waste his enormous talents. He has interests in accounting, business and finance, too."
On a positive note, Choi's Hong Kong teammate, Kwok Ho-ting, 25, is back in training after contemplating quitting the sport to further his studies in a similar case.
"Kwok Ho-ting is back in training. He's with the Hong Kong team in Guangzhou at the moment. So if Ho-ting can come back, perhaps Ki-ho will do the same."