Olympic qualifying
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Asia Rugby Olympic Sevens Qualifier

Burger queen Chong punches above her weight in Hong Kong women’s Olympic effort

Diminutive 21-year-old joined national sevens set-up by chance after seeing rugby for first time while serving food at Hong Kong Sevens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2015, 9:35pm

Chong Ka-yan was serving up hamburgers three years ago at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens when she first snuck a few glimpses of the game to which she has become devoted.

This weekend, the 21-year-old hopes to be out there on the Hong Kong Stadium grass herself, helping set Hong Kong on the way to Rio de Janeiro as part of a women's squad who will contest the first of two legs of the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier.

"I'd never seen the game played before," said Chong. "I wasn't really sure what was going on."

Most of my friends were shocked initially because they think I am a little bit small and thin for this sport. But I am stronger than I look, and faster, too
Chong Ka-yan, Hong Kong women’s sevens back

Like most of the squad, Chong has never before played at a senior level at the game's spiritual home - despite it being slap bang in the middle of her home town.

She made her sevens debut for Hong Kong during their run to the title at this year's Qingdao leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series, after trading in a promising high school athletics career at 200m and 400m, as well as handball and basketball.

Once Chong entered Chinese University and saw the rugby set-up she was hooked.

"Team sports like rugby connect you to people who have the same goals," said the winger, who now plays domestically for Gai Wu.

"Most of my friends were shocked initially because they think I am a little bit small and thin [at 50kgs and 157cms] for this sport. But I am stronger than I look, and faster, too."

The last time the Hong Kong squad took to the stadium was on their run to the bronze medal at the 2009 East Asian Games.

That victory in Qingdao two months ago was followed by a third place at the Sri Lanka Sevens and third overall in the ARSS, assigned that position via series points difference behind Japan and China after all three teams had finished tied together.

"It's exciting for us all," said Chong."We don't get to play in front of family and friends much. They will all be there to support us. I just want to get some game time and do what I can do - run and score some tries."

With so much at stake, there's been no place for sentiment in the Hong Kong camp. Former captain Royce Chan Leong-sze, for so long a lynchpin in the side and the driver of Hong Kong's fortunes, was unable to recover sufficiently from injury and has been left out of the squad.

But Christy Cheng Ka-chi has risen to the occasion to cover Chan's struggles, captaining the squad to victory in Qingdao and effortlessly assuming the role of on-field leader.

The twist in the tale of the women's Olympic qualification is that automatic progress for the Rio Games will be decided over two tournaments.

Schedule for Saturday, 7 November:

There's the Asian Rugby Sevens Qualifier this week and then a second tournament in Tokyo at the end of the month as Hong Kong face the top Asian teams in Japan, China and Kazakhstan, alongside Sri Lanka and Guam.

Hong Kong coach Anna Richards said it had been tough keeping a lid on the excitement levels this week considering the stage that awaits, and the occasion.

"The girls are jumping out of their skins," she said.

"We've trained really well and had a run out on a grass pitch Friday to get ready.

"With the squad we've got it is all systems go, no injuries at all."