Hongkongers have not had much to bring them together over the past two years. Divisive civil unrest that led to imposition of the national security law , followed by social distancing to combat the coronavirus , hardly set the tone for spontaneous public celebrations of shared feelings. The Tokyo Olympic Games loomed as a distraction that would make little difference. After all Hong Kong had won only a gold, silver and bronze apiece in 25 years. No one predicted another gold medal – for fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long in the individual foil event – or that within days Hong Kong would achieve its biggest-ever medal haul, thanks to silver-medal-winning performances by swimming sensation Siobhan Haughey in the 200-metre and 100-metre women’s freestyle finals. If Cheung’s gold surprised people who stopped to watch on the big screens in shopping malls, 23-year-old Haughey’s silvers electrified crowds that had gathered in anticipation, unmindful of social distancing, after hopes were raised by her record-breaking qualifying swims. The patriotic pride and enthusiasm were evidence that a Hong Kong sense of separate identity prevails under the surface of uncertainty amid Beijing’s political and security crackdown on the city. It is ironic that sport, that so often runs a distant second in this city to academic study and careers, should bring it to the surface. Cheung’s gold medal, like Lee Lai-shan’s victory in windsurfing at Atlanta in 1996, introduced Hongkongers to a non-mainstream sport with which few would be familiar. Haughey’s unprecedented double-medal haul tapped into the popularity of swimming in Hong Kong. She dismissed claims that, despite Cheung’s gold, two podium finishes in the intensely competitive pool made her the city’s greatest Olympian. That will not deter accolades like “queen of the pool”. There is no question that her heroics ignited media attention and seized the public imagination. In her pet event, the 200 metres, it took the outstanding female swimmer of the Games, Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, to fight off her challenge. Titmus also won the 400 metres and finished second in the 800. That Haughey backed up successfully in the 100 metres, in which she is less experienced, reflected growing confidence and poise that could make her a formidable rival at the Paris Games in 2024, when she will be no older than the woman who beat her on Friday in the 100 metres, Emma McKeon, 27. Her new army of fans will echo Haughey’s hope that her success, and that of Cheung’s, inspire Hongkongers competing in Tokyo in the week ahead and “add oil” to them. We trust the authorities will seize the moment to provide more resources for sport and physical activity not just for the glory, but for a better work-life balance in the interests of public health.