While Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe and Alexander Popov were hogging the limelight at the World Championships in Barcelona, Hong Kong stars were making a less-heralded impression of their own. Sherry Tsai Hiu-wai and Jennifer Ng Chi-kwon qualified for the Olympics and three Hong Kong records were broken - but overall it was a disappointing World Championships for the SAR squad. No Hong Kong swimmer has ever qualified for a semi-final at the championships and that barren run continued in Barcelona last week. But on her return to Hong Kong this week Tsai, 19, said she was elated to have booked her place for Athens 2004 where she will compete in the 100 and 200 metres backstroke. Tsai qualified during the heats with times of one minute and 3.93 seconds (100m) and 2:19.27 (200m). 'It's awesome - I'm so happy - it will be a dream come true,' said Tsai, who just completed her first year of university studies in California. During her time in the United States she trained with a club team that included Olympic medallists Aaron Peirsol and Amanda Beard. 'Actually, I made the Olympic cut five times already when I was in the US, but the Hong Kong Swimming Association did not accept it because I wasn't representing Hong Kong at the time.' Tsai hopes that more of the squad will achieve the qualifying standard before the deadline next year. Four women and five men went to the 2000 Sydney Olympics but Tsai said more could go to Athens next year. 'I think more people will qualify this time,' said Tsai, a former Diocesan Girls' School student and three-time Hong Kong and Kowloon sportsgirl of the year award winner. 'I'm confident that other Hong Kong swimmers can make it. They train hard and always have good team spirit,' said the holder of six Hong Kong records. Ng will also go to Greece after she set a new Hong Kong record in the 50m freestyle (26.69 seconds), beating her own previous best by just one hundredth of a second. But the World Championships presented a great chance for more of the squad to hit their target times and qualify. Anxiety in the young group may have damaged their chances. 'For some it's their first time at this level - they may get over excited or even frightened,' coach Chan Yiu-hoi had said before they left for Barcelona. Squad member Alex Chung Kwok-leung said Hong Kong athletes just 'weren't in the mood', adding: 'This was more a chance for us to gain experience.' So while the China women's team was celebrating their 4x100m championship record relay time and gold medal on Sunday, the Hong Kong squad celebrated lesser success. The 4x200m medley relay quartet of Sze Hang-yu, Flora Kong Yan-kay, Ng and Tsai skimmed nearly eight seconds off the previous Hong Kong best with a time of eight minutes and 33.86 seconds. But it still left them trailing 16th out of 18 teams in the event, ahead of India and New Zealand, and Hong Kong were way off qualifying for the semi-finals.