Athletes on gold rush in Darwin

HONGKONG athletes went on a gold rush at the Arafura Sports Festival in Darwin, capturing 27 gold medals after only five days of competition to become the most successful overseas team.

Leading the way was the territory's top woman swimmer Robyn Lamsam, who bagged five gold medals while teammates Heidi Wong and Billy Kwok also shone with four victories apiece.

Hongkong altogether collected 15 golds in the pool, with Brendan Leung and Katie Lau both weighing in with one each.

Lamsam, a freestyle specialist competing in the 15 to 17 years age division, showed she is equally talented in the butterfly stroke as she broke the Northern Territory's all-comers record in the 50 metres butterfly event.

The 15-year-old's winning time of 29.74 seconds shaved 1.53 seconds off the Northern Territory all-comers mark set in 1987.

Lamsam also set a Hongkong record at the meeting, winning the 400 metres freestyle event in four minutes and 25.14 seconds to shave 4.53 seconds off her own national mark.

National swim coach Bill Sweetenham was delighted with Lamsam's performance during the carnival, especially in the 400 metres race.

Sweetenham was also very impressed by 12-year-old Heidi Wong and 14-year-old Billy Kwok, reckoned as two of the brightest newcomers in Hongkong swimming.

Wong, one of the youngest competitors at the festival, brought her personal gold medal tally to five with a victory in the open 200 metres breast-stroke against much older swimmers, including one twice her age.

The triumph in the open race, with a time of two minutes and 49.79 seconds, put Wong in line for the Swimmer of the Festival honours.

Kwok, a St Joseph's College student, was the most successful of Hongkong's male swimmers at the festival with a four gold haul.

The versatile Kwok and teammate Brendan Leung completed a memorable one-two for Hongkong in the 200 metres medley event, underlining the territory's potential for world class swimmers by the turn of the century.

Katie Lau, another young swimmer who will be attending the East Asian Games with Lamsam, also shone with a second-place finish in the 50 metres freestyle for girls 13 and 14.

Lau recorded a respectable time of 28.60 seconds and was pipped to the board by Darwin champion Carly Dover, who finished only 0.18 of a second ahead.

Hongkong sportsmen and women were also successful on the athletic arena with in-form Li Chun-ni again making an impression with her third medal at three different meetings in three different jump events over the past two months.

Li, long jump bronze medallist in Bangkok and the triple jump champion in Manila, this time won the high jump, clearing 1.55 metres to equal the Games record.

She also took bronze in the women's 100 metres hurdles event, won by fellow-Hongkong representative Cheung Suet-yee in 14.44 seconds.

Cheung also proved her versatility with a silver in the high jump behind Li and a bronze in the 100 metres sprint.

Hongkong's former star woman sprinter Justina Ng Kar-yi bounced back on the glory path with a victory in the 100 metres in a time of 12.08 seconds.

Ng, the national record holder for the 100 metres and 200 metres distances, is making a comeback to the running track after a two-year absence and the victory was a welcome return to form for her, having suffered a pulled calf muscle early in the season.

Veteran woman long distance runner Winnie Ng Lai-chu added to Hongkong's gold medal tally with a comfortable win in the 1,000 metres race, clocking 38 minutes and 0.04 of a second.

China-born Ma Yuet won the men's triple jump for Hongkong with a leap of 15.61 metres, breaking the Games record by a mammoth 70 centimetres. It was, however, well short of his 16.21 Hongkong record set two years ago.

Hongkong also struck gold in the badminton competition despite sending a very young team that included five juniors: Tam Kai-chuen, Ma Chi-kwong, Yau Koon-yuen and girls Jeann Ng Tze-yan and Lam Hoi-yee.

The youthful Hongkong squad, which also include Tung Chau-man and Ngan Fai, defeated Brunei, Australia and Indonesia to win the team title.