Athletes face 'do-or-die' mission at Asian Games
Hong Kong's gymnastics and triathlon team admit they are in a "do-or-die situation" ahead of the Asian Games next month: come back from Incheon with medals or be kicked out of the Sports Institute's elite programme and say goodbye to lucrative funding.
Both sports know they must podium or say goodbye to the institute's elite programme in March next year when the current funding cycle ends.
"This is a do-or-die situation for us," admitted Cheung Siu-yin, chairman of the Hong Kong Gymnastics Association. "Although there is also the World Championships in October, another chance to fulfil the selection criteria, I don't think it is realistic for our gymnasts to target a medal there.
"Our gymnasts also understand the importance of the event and have already done their best preparation for the Incheon Games with a medal their target. We don't want to put them under extra pressure, but this is the reality."
The latest selection rule states that sports must medal at the Asian Games or World Championships or qualify for the Olympics to remain in the elite ranks. They must also hit a nine-point average benchmark with two senior and two junior athletes.
Funding cycles last for four years with a review at halfway, and if a sport fails to make the benchmark then they are put on notice and given two years to achieve it; gymnastics and triathlon were the only sports of the 15 elite disciplines to be in this situation following the last review done last year.
Losing elite status would mean the loss of millions of dollars of support for world-class coaching staff, use of facilities, local and overseas training. Athletes under the programme can also receive a maximum elite training grant of HK$36,400 monthly. Gymnastics are sending three athletes to Incheon: Angel Wong Hiu-ying, Shek Wai-hung and Ng Kiu-chung.
Wong and Shek are vault specialists and represented Hong Kong at the 2012 London Games, the first time Hong Kong gymnasts qualified for the Olympics.
"They all have the quality of winning a medal in Incheon, especially Shek, who has a high difficulty score in this manoeuvre, but they must deliver on the day," added Cheung. "Shek always gets nervous in big competition and we have already sought help from sports psychologists at the institute."
Triathlon will rely on a new event to reach the target, pinning their hopes on the mixed relay, which comprises two men and two women over a shorter distance than the standard Olympic course.
"This is a new event with participants' quality something of an unknown," said retired triathlete Lee Chi-wo.