Mission accomplished, Hong Kong's gold-laden Paralympic squad return home today with senior officials already planning and looking ahead to the next Games in Athens in 2004. The 28-strong squad took the Sydney Games by storm and finished it as the most successful SAR sports squad to compete at a multi-sports international event. They arrive this afternoon with eight golds, three silvers and seven bronze medals. A triumphant homecoming awaits them at Hong Kong Airport. 'This is more than what we ever expected. I'm really happy for the athletes who have put in a lot of hard work and dedication. They deserve it,' said Silas Chiang Tak-cheung, Hong Kong's chef de mission. In an interview with the South China Morning Post on the eve of his departure from Sydney, Chiang was over the moon at the accomplishment of the Hong Kong team who participated in six sports. But in the midst of all the back-slapping and celebration, he was quick to point out that a lot of work needed to be done if Hong Kong were to maintain their standing in the world. 'We need fresh blood. Young blood. I noticed that a large number of the athletes in Sydney were very young. In our squad we have athletes who were taking part in their third paralympics. While the experience is handy we need new blood. 'In the next two years we have to start finding novices to join our programme. We need to find young people who will join our special schools and workshops for the physically and mentally handicapped. We have to search for prospective athletes and start training them,' he said. The unstated hope is that in the euphoria of this unprecedented success, more funds and facilities will be provided by the Government for the welfare of disabled athletes. Like any other able bodied sports, the physically and mentally handicapped athletes take time to groom. As an example, Chiang says that it takes at least six years to train a table tennis player. 'We are not talking about one or two years. From scratch it will take at least six years to develop an athlete in table tennis. They need to be trained and they have to gain experience,' said Chiang. One of the aims will be to unearth women fencers. This is a sport which Hong Kong has traditionally been very successful in. Ben Cheung's four gold medals in Atlanta and Fung Ying-ki's three golds in Sydney are testament to that. But sadly, the fairer sex have not taken up to the fine and intricate art of fencing. 'We did not have even one female athlete in fencing in Sydney. It is worrying as this is a sport in which we can do well. We should start looking for female fencers and try to develop the sport in this area,' said Chiang. After the celebrations have died down - Hang Seng Bank and the Sports Development Board will be in the frontline having to dish out close to $500,000 in cash awards - the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled and the Sports Association for the Mentally Disabled will start the search. But it is now time for them to savour the sweet success of winning a record haul of medals and finishing 21st in the overall medals tally, the best finish for Hong Kong in Paralympics history. The gold rush started with paraplegic wheelchair fencer Fung. When 13, Fung was struck down by a virus which left him with less than 50 per cent use of his legs. Seven years on, he led Hong Kong's glory charge, winning individual golds in the foil and sabre events and a team gold in the foil. 'I'm satisfied with my achievements. I had hoped to win four golds but it's unlucky that we narrowly lost in the team sabre final. It was a most memorable moment at the prize presentations. I was delighted when I saw the SAR flag rise and the national anthem play,' said Fung. He said a strong team spirit among the Hong Kong team was one of the reasons for his success. 'We were so supportive of each other that we shouted and yelled a lot when we watched our teammates play. I think our rivals feared us. I experienced what real big Games are. The atmosphere was great and a lot of the Chinese living in Australia cheered for us. 'I'll concentrate on studying the following year. I have to repeat Form Five. At the moment, I'm enjoying the glory. I want to take my mind off fencing,' said the Sha Tin College schoolboy. His sterling effort was matched on the track by sprinter So Wa-wai, who not only won three gold medals, but did it in style establishing three world records in the process in the 100 metres, 200m and 400m. 'I didn't expect to break any record, so I'm more than happy with my three golds. My most memorable win was in the 400m final. I threw up after I won it and needed to be taken in a wheelchair to attend the prize presentation. I was so tired that I didn't even want to move my body. But half an hour later, I had to compete in the 4x100m relay. It was tough,' said So. His heroic efforts were watched by his parents from the stands at Stadium Australia. 'It was the first time we went to watch him in an overseas competition. I'm a housewife but his father took time off from work to see him run. I was worried during the 400m final but it was wonderful to see him win. If he likes to continue running for Hong Kong, we will definitely support him,' said his mum. The icing on the cake was added by the squad's 'baby', Lai Wai-ling. The 14-year-old schoolgirl became the first mentally handicapped athlete from Hong Kong to win gold. She clinched the table tennis medal to underline her world number one status. Hong Kong was the fourth-ranked nation in Asia, finishing behind China, South Korea, Japan and Iran. A commendable performance by athletes who have to fight against the odds every day of their lives. 'Our mission was accomplished successfully,' said Chiang. Now the real work starts - to find and groom the future stars. 'We need fresh blood, young blood to keep up with the young brigade'