PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 12:00am

CHEERED on by Chief Secretary Anson Chan, swimmer Mark Kwok Kin-ming set a new Hong Kong record with a time of three minutes 58.94 seconds in the men's 400 metres freestyle heats.

It was the only Hong Kong record to fall on the first day of action at the Olympic pool. The SAR swimming team, watched by Chan who is in town to push Hong Kong's bid for the 2006 Asian Games, know that they can never be in the hunt for medals. What matters is establishing personal bests or, even better, setting new local records.

Kwok, 23, did just that as he finished second in his heat - having trailed winner Woo Chul of Korea the entire race - to beat his old time of 4:00.44 which won him a bronze medal at the 1998 Asian Games.

This exemplifies the vast gulf between Asian standards and the rest of the world. A bronze medal winning time in Asia, which was bettered by almost two seconds, was still not enough to get Kwok within sniffing distance of the finals.

Kwok's time saw him finish 30th overall in the list headed by Australian golden boy Ian Thorpe, who won his heat in an Olympic record time of 3:44.65 - a mind-boggling 14.29 seconds ahead of Kwok.

It was a creditable performance by Kwok, who was third behind the Korean and Argentina's Agustin Fiorilli. Kwok caught up with the latter in the last 100 metres and overtook him with 50 metres to go.

Younger brother Matthew Kwok Hon-ming matched his personal best of 1:05:29 in the 100 metres breaststroke but failed to qualify. Matthew, 21, finished third in his heat, and 50th overall.

Teenager Flora Kong Yan-kay, the only other SAR swimmer in action, placed second in her heat in the women's 100 metres butterfly. Kong set a time of 1:04.09, well below her personal best of 1:02.85.

In table tennis, Leung Chu-yan and Cheung Yuk got off to a winning start when they beat Greeks Ntaniel Tsiokas and Kalinikos Kreanga 21-14, 14-21, 21-14 in a preliminary group match in the men's doubles.

The Hong Kong pair will meet Australians Mark Smythe and Simon Gerada tomorrow. A win here will see the SAR in the last 16.

In the women's doubles, Wong Ching and Song Ah-sim were defeated 21-19, 12-21, 21-12 by Japan's An Konishi and Ai Fujinuma. Wong and Song will now meet Chileans Silvia Messina and Sofija Tepes in their final group game tomorrow, but their chances of progressing are slim with only the group winner advancing.

In badminton, Louisa Koon Wai-chee and Tam Kai-chuen were knocked out of the mixed doubles going down to Sweden's Jenny Karlsson and Frederik Bergstroem 15-13, 10-15, 15-12.