Motivation is a key element in Hong Kong Olympic prospect Lee Lai-shan's theory on how to be successful in sport. It has been the main factor in her rise as one of the world's top amateur windsurfers and is as essential to her sporting well-being as her sleek, fibre-glass board, superb fitness and undoubted racing ability. But the 25-year-old Cheung Chau-raised sailor acknowledges that it is an ally that is difficult to cling on to and knows all too well that it has not always been with her. Going into the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as the world's number one ranked female windsurfer, 'San San' remembers the low-point of four years ago, when Olympic disappointment very nearly knocked her off the sailboard for good. 'After the 1992 Olympics, I was very disappointed,' said Lee, burdened months before Barcelona with the title of Hong Kong's first Olympic medal winner but who could only manage 11th place. 'I felt I had a bad event because I expected better. At that time I was depressed and thought I was no good at this sport. I thought 'maybe I should quit'. 'After a while I looked at it differently, in a more positive light. I had a look at how I performed, thought maybe my psychology was not right or I wasn't fit. Gradually, my motivation came back.' And it came back with a vengeance. The next year, Lee achieved a first for a Hong Kong athlete - male or female - when she won the world championship, the only local athlete to do so in an Olympic event. Over the next three years, she never finished below fourth place. She also picked up victories in the European and Asian Championships. Lee credits much of her recovery to the Hong Kong Sports Institute's resident sports psychologist, who helped her forget about the Olympic disappointment and focus on what she can achieve. Lee still sees the psychologist at least once a week and when she is competing overseas they often communicate by fax. A decade ago, Lee would have scoffed at anyone forecasting such a rich harvest of honours. Taking the sport up at 12, she was initially coached by her uncle, who owns a sailing shop on Cheung Chau Island. With equipment, the sea and solid coaching at her disposal, Lee was always going to be good. But it was not until 1988 that two significant developments convinced her that she could, and wanted to, get better. 'In 1988, it was announced that windsurfing would be in the Olympics. Also, I won the Hong Kong ladies' class tournament and at that time I made the decision that I would try and represent Hong Kong in the Olympics,' she said. 'But back then, I never thought that I would be good enough to be considered a medal winner. My aim was to be Asian champion. I achieved that and then I became European Champion and so on. As I achieved more, my targets kept changing all the time.' Not that Lee is predicting certain medal success in Savannah, the Olympic yachting site 400 kilometres south-east of Atlanta, Georgia. She wants to protect herself from the possible heartache of failure and build up a balanced mental approach, based around the motivation factor and the knowledge that there is life after the Olympics. 'Pressure is not something I'm going to think about during competition. I'm still motivated and after the Olympics I want to finish off my studies and then aim for the 1998 Asian Games [in Bangkok]. After that, I will see if I'm still motivated enough to continue competing,' she said. Lee also deftly unburdens herself from the 1997 mentality which everyone else seems preoccupied with. An Olympic medal for Hong Kong in their final Games under the British flag would appear to add to the magnitude of such an achievement. But for Lee, it plays no part in her training regime or competition game-plan. 'I never thought about it,' she said. 'Those are political things. As an athlete I just have to worry about trying to get the best results.' Lee's success can also be attributed to her fellow Olympian, study partner and boyfriend Sam Wong Tak-sum. Wong, 30, harboured thoughts of retirement after winning a silver medal at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima. His decision to carry on was not only rewarded by a place in this year's Olympics, but has also been of value to Lee's own development. 'Having Sam around helps a lot because we can push each other to do better during training. It makes a difference when you are training alone because then you don't know how fast you are going or how hard you a pushing yourself,' she said. The duo, under the watchful eye of national coach, Dutchman Rene Appel, have a gruelling training programme. When not studying for a degree in sports administration at the Institute, the pair are either on the water, in the gym or competing. 'Our record for training is two months with just one day's holiday. Sometimes you do get frustrated. You are tired and you don't feel like training. But once you're on the board, it's all right,' she said. Lee dearly hopes that everything turns out all right for her - with or without a medal - when she takes on the world's best.