Now she’s talking: India-born Saloni Mehta learns Cantonese, changes nationality in pursuit of Hong Kong Olympic dream
Teenager wants to represent the city at the Tokyo Games and is willing to go the extra mile to achieve her ambitions
Teenager Saloni Mehta knew what she had to do – learn Cantonese, then convince her parents to change her nationality.
Now the 15-year-old badminton talent is determined to represent Hong Kong at the Olympics.
Born in Mumbai but raised in Hong Kong, Mehta quickly realised she would have more opportunities in Hong Kong, but knew it would not be easy.
“At first no one talked to me because they spoke Cantonese and I could only speak English,” she said. “I realised I must learn Cantonese if I wanted to become part of them which would also help my training.
“I spent one year learning the language before I could freely communicate with my fellow teammates in Cantonese and they became so friendly to me,” she said.
Her parents even sent her back to Mumbai for training at an academy, hoping she would choose a pathway in her native land.
“The standard there is also very high with many promising players training hard for their future, but I consider Hong Kong my home, and if I want to become a badminton player, I want to represent Hong Kong and not India,” said Mehta.
“That’s why I convinced my parents to change my nationality so I can train here and build up my career.”
“It’s not easy but I have overcome all these difficulties to establish my badminton career in Hong Kong,” said the KGV student, who now plans to turn to full-time training this summer after making her international debut for Hong Kong at last year’s Asia Youth Championships in Yangon, Myanmar.
“I can now set sights on pursuing my sporting dream with the Olympic Games the ultimate target.”
Mehta started playing when she was eight years of age and four years later was training with the elite players at the Sports Institute.
It’s no surprise who her idol is – Pusarla Sindhu, who won a silver medal for India at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“Many people have said I look like her, including many of my family friends. Tall, slim and most of all we are both Indian,” said Mehta.
“At first I did some research on her and then I saw her play on television. She is so amazing and she inspires me.
“I would love to be as successful as Sindhu, but there is still a long way to go before I can reach her standard. That’s my target.”
Mehta represented Hong Kong at the Asia Junior Championships last year, losing in the second round, but is targeting the semi-finals this year.
“I want to put 100 per cent into my training and fortunately my school allows me to do so, although my graduation will need to be delayed for a year until 2021,” she said.
“But I really want to do well in badminton. I want to achieve success in the sport.
“The world championships and the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would be my targets. But there are also things I need to improve, to be more focused and consistent and my mental ability is another area I have to work on.”
Head coach Tim He Yiming is impressed by Mehta’s fighting spirit. “It may be too early to say how far she can go but her attitude, her aggressiveness and her aptitude for success make her something different,” said the coach.