Lee Lai-shan’s message to Hong Kong’s Rio athletes – they spend millions on you, so don’t waste this chance

Twenty years ago to the day, San San won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – and Hong Kong is still waiting for another champion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 6:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:43am

Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai-shan has urged Hong Kong athletes to justify the generous financial and technical support they enjoy as elite sportsmen and women when they seek glory at the 2016 Rio Games in August.

It is 20 years ago to the day that windsurfer San San made history when she became the first Hong Kong athlete to win a medal at the Olympics, at the 1996 Atlanta Games – in an era when local sport received a third of the funding they do now.

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Not many athletes are able to represent Hong Kong,” said 45-year-old Lee, Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medallist. “So they should first enjoy the competition and try their best to achieve good results for them and for Hong Kong as well.

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“When I was an athlete, the system was just getting started. Now, it is more comprehensive and the support for athletes is more than in my time.

“Because they get more money, much more than what we did, I just want to say, don’t waste your chance.

“I know that in some countries their athletes don’t have that much support and struggle to get money to fund their Olympic campaigns.

“Athletes in Hong Kong should take this chance and use it to perform to their best. I really hope they can bring some good results back and especially a medal.”

The Hong Kong Sports Institute – the city’s elite sports centre – spends around HK$300 million a year on development and training, while the Leisure and Cultural Services Department provides funding of more than HK$260 million annually for the various national sports associations.

In 1996, the then Sports Development Board had about HK$100 million to fund associations and elite athletes.

Hong Kong is sending a 38-strong squad to Rio, as well as coaching, technical and medical staff, with cycling, table tennis and badminton representing the best medal hopes.

Cash incentives for winning individual medals at the Games have tripled since San San’s gold, which made her HK$1 million richer, along with other multiple endorsements.

Athletes who win individual gold in Rio will earn HK$3 million, silver is worth HK$1.5 million and bronze HK$750,000.

Team gold, silver and bronze medals will bank HK$4.2 million, HK$2.1 million and HK$1.05 million respectively.

Individually, athletes are also much better taken care of compared with San San’s time and the elite full-time scholarship holders are eligible for generous grants.

“Since Atlanta, Hong Kong athletes have had good results with table tennis and cycling winning medals, so the government is willing to pay more,” said Lee.

“When they win it portrays a positive image and helps to influence young people to pursue sports.”

Hong Kong’s second Olympic medal came at the 2004 Games in Athens when Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching won silver in the table tennis men’s doubles competition. Eight years later, in London, track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze, took bronze in the women’s keirin event.

Sarah Lee is again at the forefront of Hong Kong’s medal chase for the Rio Games in track cycling.

After some struggles over the past two years since her London medal, the 29-year-old returned to form last month with some strong performances at the International Track Series in Melbourne Australia.

In table tennis, Hong Kong’s hopes lie with men’s singles player Wong Chun-ting, who will also look for glory in the men’s team competition.

Also with an outside chance of medals are badminton players Ng Ka-long, in men’s singles, and the mixed doubles pair of Lee Chun-hei and Cathy Chau Hoi-wah.

Lee went on to take part two more Summer Games – Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. In Sydney, she finished sixth and four years later narrowly missed out on the bronze when she finished fourth.