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World Cup set for HK return

Some of the world's top swimmers are poised to return to Hong Kong in December next year as the SAR appears likely to host one of the legs of the Fina World Cup after a five-year absence.

The short-course meeting, which was last held here in 2000, could finally be resurrected with more prize money as Hong Kong hopes to become either the third or fourth leg of the money-spinning series, worth almost US$1 million in prize money.

Hong Kong organisers are trying to get the event rubber-stamped by Fina, the world governing body, although final approval looks to be a formality for the SAR, which hosted the World Cup meet for seven straight years from 1994 to 2000.

'There's a big chance that Hong Kong will host one of the legs again during the 2005-2006 season. Fina will discuss our case in their executive meeting in the next month or so. We need a full year to prepare for it so the timing is good,' said a Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association (HKASA) official.

'We couldn't host the World Cup meet during the past four years because we were unable to obtain sponsorship. But now the economy has improved, there's a much better chance of getting financial backing.'

If Fina approves Hong Kong's request, local swimming fans are in for another treat with several Olympic and world champions likely to make a splash at the Kowloon Park Indoor Swimming Pool.

In the past, such luminaries as four-time Olympic champion Alexander Popov, Australian golden boy Michael Klim, US Olympic gold medallist Gary Hall Jnr, German stars Sandra Volker and Franziska van Almsick, and China's then multiple world record-holder Le Jingyi have all competed in World Cup meets here.

Five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe has also graced Hong Kong before, when the Australian great competed in the World Short-Course Championships, held here in 1999.

'A lot of the world's top swimmers will compete in the Hong Kong leg, which, if approved, will be included in the Asia, Oceania and African zone, which guarantees Hong Kong a number of top-class swimmers,' the HKASA official added. Other countries hoping to be included in the series are South Africa, Australia and South Korea.

Said the official: 'Prize money will be at least US$100,000 per leg, and they will also be bonus prize money for world record-breakers. There's a pool of US$60,000 shared by the record-breakers.'

In the past, the Hong Kong leg of the World Cup was sponsored by companies such as Epson, while the Urban Council also heavily subsidised the event.

Hong Kong has also tasted success in the World Cup before with Sherry Tsai Hiu-wai winning a bronze medal in 1999 in the women's 50 metres backstroke.