It was one big tightrope act for Hong Kong sport last year as it manfully tried to balance its independent status, while at the same time moving closer to the mainland in a show of national unity. Golden girl Lee Lai-shan ended the year on a high, winning the World Windsurfing Championship but, for consistency, cycling ace Wong Kam-po took pride of place. Wong might have stolen all the limelight in actual competition but even his heroics - coming close to being crowned Asia's premier cyclist - was overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres of sports administrators who were seemingly caught in two minds over the SAR's sports relationship with the mainland. The biggest boost for local sports independency was the presence of a high- powered delegation from international sport at the handover celebrations. International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch and FIFA president Joao Havelange were among the heavyweights invited to the historic occasion. Their presence was followed by assurances that Hong Kong would continue to keep its independent role at all international sporting events, from the Olympics to the soccer World Cup (where Hong Kong played in the qualifiers), once it had become the SAR. Samaranch, one of the most powerful men in world sport, had always maintained that Hong Kong would retain its independent status. With Hong Kong's own Olympic chief, A de O Sales, being a close confidant of Samaranch, the SAR was guaranteed sporting autonomy. This was greeted with universal relief by all the sports associations. However, they had to clear the air with their own individual world governing bodies. Most had no problems, apart from those associated with football who, despite the assurances from Havelange, questioned the legality of Hong Kong's independent status. A special body which looked into the matter cleared Hong Kong only last month. If it had not, who knows which can of worms might have been opened? In a show of unity and emotion, Hong Kong sport also decided to accept the invitation by the organisers of the China National Games to participate at the October event. The games, held every four years, is the biggest and most important spectacle for China apart from the Olympics and the Asian Games. All the provinces take part in the multi-sport event which is invariably of a high standard as shown by the number of world records broken at swimming, weightlifting and athletics. As a special allowance to their newest 'province', the Chinese decided to scrap the qualifying standards for Hong Kong athletes. This was mainly done as a display of compatriotism. Despite reservations in some quarters - critics feared that if Hong Kong took part it would be jeopardising its status of independence - Hong Kong's two main sporting bodies, the Amateur Sports Federation and Olympic Committee and the Sports Development Board, decided to accept the invitation. Hong Kong's participation was an unqualified success, not so much in terms of actual competition, but merely in the fact that the Chinese masses saw the 'homecoming' with their own eyes. The SAR will continue to take part in future Chinese National Games. The tightrope act will continue - trying to keep its independent status in the world's eyes but at the same time remembering that it is now part of China - and, hopefully, it will not cause too many flutters for observers. While the administrators were walking the rope, Wong Kam-po showed he has the class and ability to win a gold medal at next year's Asian Games in Bangkok, by winning two of three key events this year. In May, Wong captured the Marlboro Tour of the Philippines. It was the first time in 42 years that the gruelling 2,500-kilometre race was open to foreigners and Wong faced stiff local opposition before spiriting away the title. Soon after Wong's triumph, Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang predicted Wong was ready to move up a level and become Asia's number one rider. To do this, he had to win the Asian Championships in June. But, in a gripping finale, Wong was edged out by centimetres by a professional rider from Kazakhstan in the feature 170km road race. The 24-year-old Wong finished 0.09 of a second behind and had to settle for the silver medal. Wong capped a wonderful year by stealing the show at the China National Games, winning Hong Kong its only gold medal in actual competition. With light rain streaming down his face, Wong won the 180km road race to prove that he is one of the deadliest road racers in the region. The SAR's other notable successes on the international scene came in wushu, snooker and windsurfing. Ng Siu-ching won two gold medals at the 4th World Wushu Championships in Rome in November and also a gold medal at the East Asian Games in Pusan in May - the last time Hong Kong appeared in a major international games under British rule. Hong Kong's top hurdler, Chan Sau-ying, won a silver medal at these games, but a month later she was involved in a drugs scandal when she tested positive at an international meet in Zagreb. Chan was initially suspended for taking the banned substance Ephedrine - as a medicine for flu - but was later given a reprieve after the international governing body decided to give first-time offenders a warning. Marco Fu Kar-chun became the first Hong Kong cueist to win the world amateur championship. Hong Kong's Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai-shan proved her Atlanta heroics were no flash in the pan when she swept away the World Windsurfing Championships crown in Perth last month. San San trailed the leaders going into the last three races and it seemed her goal of repeating her success at the 1993 event would be beyond her. But the Cheung Chau islander breezed to victory in the last three races to complete a superb come-from-behind win. Hong Kong's premier sporting event, the Rugby Sevens, was not held in lieu of the second Rugby World Cup Sevens. But the action still flowed thick and fast. Fiji, regarded by many as the guardians of sevens rugby, beat a spirited South Africa 24-21 to win the title in front of a packed Hong Kong Stadium. Hockey also scored a momentous win when the SAR won the first Asia Men's Federation Cup and thus qualified for the Asia Cup next year. Hong Kong showed it was the best of the second tier of Asian nations when it prevailed in the seven-team competition. After nearly two decades, Hong Kong football decided to go overseas and hire a coach for the senior side in early December. Brazilian Sebastiao Pereira Araujo and a trainer were hired for the princely sum of $900,000 for a three-month contract. Araujo's brief is to see the Hong Kong side wins the two legs against Guangdong in mid-January. He has arrived at a time when the local game is going through a protracted slump in public interest. A wholesale resignation of the Hong Kong team management and senior FA officials has also created a vacuum. But the FA has moved quickly to fill that breach by appointing Araujo. Can he deliver? This will be the question on the lips of most people as Hong Kong sport moves into the New Year.