HONG KONG'S Lee Lai-shan got off to a slow start when the World Championships finally got underway in Kashiwazaki, Japan, yesterday. Lee, the two-time Asian champion and current European champion, finished ninth, sixth and fourth in the opening series of round-robin races which put her in fifth position overall in the 44-women field. Ahead of her were joint leaders American Lanee Butler and Elena Draoulea of France, followed by China's Zhang Xiaodong third and Italy's Manuela Arcidiacono. Hong Kong coach Rene Appel is hopeful Lee can finish among the medals by the end of the week and prays that the winds will pick up. ''The winds were very light but the organisers pushed the races through to get an event,'' said Appel, explaining that there must be at least two results for the championship to be recognised. ''Each round robin will be counted as one result,'' said Appel. Appel is expecting similar conditions today but is confident Lee can do better as ''she was improving with every race''. He added: ''Being fifth isn't all that bad and San San is certainly hanging in there.'' Hong Kong's Sam Wong Tak-sum and Ken Wong Hop-hi are in the top half of the field among the 109 competitors in the men's division and Appel is confident they can both qualify for the finals. Sam Wong performed creditably to place fourth in his first race but he failed to keep the momentum going.