Athletes back to hero's welcome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 October, 2004, 12:00am

Paralympics team is already looking to the future after winning a record number of medals at Athens games

Hong Kong's disabled athletes returned to a hero's welcome after a record-breaking performance at the Paralympic Games in Athens, but they refused to rest on their laurels, saying they will need new blood to keep up with their competitors at the 2008 Games.

The team of 26 athletes and their coaches were accompanied by Director of Leisure and Cultural Services Anissa Wong Sean-yee as they stepped into the arrival hall at Chek Lap Kok.

They were greeted by Hong Kong residents and throngs of cheering schoolchildren waving red SAR flags. A number of children wore large paper hands bearing the Chinese characters for welcome.

The Hong Kong team won 11 gold medals at this year's games, their biggest haul ever and three more than in Sydney in 2000. Their total medals tally was also the highest ever.

Chef de mission Silas Chiang Tak-cheung said the results - especially in wheelchair fencing, from which Hong Kong took home eight gold medals out of a total 15 - were very satisfactory.

'I'm sure no other country can get more than half of the total gold medals in a sport,' he said.

The athletes were not about to get complacent, however.

'We have already made plans to begin preparation for the 2008 Paralympic Games within the next month or two,' he said.

The priority at the moment was to find an infusion of new athletes to sustain the high level of performance.

'We need new blood to continue our good results,' he said. 'We will try to find new athletes from special education schools and other places.'

The vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, Jenny Fung Ma Kit-han, applauded the athletes. 'This makes all Hong Kong people proud,' she said.

The chairman of the association, York Chow Yat-ngok, said the results were spectacular given Hong Kong's size: 'For such a small place, this is a breakthrough.'

Fung Ying-ki, who won two gold medals and a silver in the fencing, said that the medals were a result of teamwork. 'I calculated it last night. Every athlete got 0.732 gold medals,' he said. 'This shows that it's not just an individual or a small group of people winning, but a group effort.'

Fellow fencer Yu Chui-yee, who won four gold medals, said it was important to look ahead.

'Our results were very satisfactory but the next Games or even next year it will be beginning from zero again, because these games are already history,' she said.

'I hope that we will continue to work hard and do even better.

'I am very happy to see a lot of school kids and regular people here to welcome us back,' she said. 'It feels very good to know that they are supporting us in everything that we are working hard for.'

She said she would now take a short break from training and that she would still have to return to school.

'Life should be returning to normal,' she said.