Lai Wai-ling is 14. She is mentally handicapped. And she is one of Hong Kong's top gold medal hopes at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games from October 18-29. 'I'm nervous but at the same time very excited and happy to be representing Hong Kong at my first Paralympic Games,' said Lai, who is presently the number one ranked player in the world in table tennis. The Sha Tin schoolgirl, along with sprinter So Wa-wai and wheelchair fencer Hui Charn-hung, proudly received the Bauhinia flag which will fly at the Games from Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang at Government House yesterday. For the first time Hong Kong will be sending mentally handicapped athletes to the Paralympics. The Atlanta Paralympics was the first occasion at which athletes in this category took part. 'We could not send mentally handicapped athletes last time as we did not have enough time to prepare a team. But we hope to make amends this time,' said Fay Ho Kim-fai, executive director of the Sports Association for the mentally handicapped and assistant chef de mission of the SAR squad. The mentally handicapped athletes will number nine and will take part in three sports - table tennis, swimming and athletics. The entire Hong Kong squad will number 28 athletes. The other sports in which Hong Kong will take part are archery, fencing and shooting. 'We hope to maintain our position in the world and finish inside the top 30 countries,' said Silas Chiang Tak-cheung chef de mission of the squad. 'I hope we can win the same number of medals, if not more, as we did last time.' Hong Kong have been taking part in the Paralympics since 1972. At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the SAR finished in 25th position and brought home five gold, five silver and five bronze medals. The disabled athletes' path to glory is not easy as can be imagined. Paralympic organisers have not made things easier by asking countries to pay an entry fee to take part. 'It seems so unfair. The disabled athletes are not only disabled, but they also face financial disadvantages that able-bodied athletes don't have to face,' said Tony Correa, treasurer of the association in charge of the physically disabled. Chiang said the matter would be brought up at the general assembly of the participating countries in Sydney. 'This is one of the most pressing issues and we will address it. The reason for the fee is apparently to cover some of the financial costs of holding the Paralympics.' Apart from Lai and Hong Kong's wheelchair fencers, the best hopes in winning gold will lie with the men's 4x100 metres relay team of Chan Sing-chung, Chiu Kwok-pang, Cheung Yiu-cheung and So Wa-wai. The foursome hold the current world record of 49.23 seconds set in 1998 at the Disability World Athletics Championships in Birmingham, England.