Schools do not make it easy for promising athletes, warns Hannah Wilson

Schools do not make it easy for promising athletes, warns Hannah Wilson

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 5:43am

For nine months before the London Olympics last year, Hannah Wilson swam four hours every day . It was the first time in her Olympic career - she also participated in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 - the local nicknamed "Miss Record" devoted her time fully to the pool.

"It was my full-time job. There wasn't any time for anything else," Wilson, 24, said. "It's a lifestyle that is purely based on your sport so in my case, swimming. It was my only source of income [Hong Kong Sports Institute] and I considered myself a professional athlete."

It was an easy choice to make as she had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and could dedicate all her efforts towards streamlining her challenge at her third, and last, Olympics. But it wasn't always the case, especially when she was a student at Island School.

I think in Hong Kong, it is hard to get the support to pursue a sport
Hannah Wilson

"I think in Hong Kong, it is hard to get the support to pursue a sport whether it's from the schools or parents. I know financially, sports are very well funded here but academics is regarded so highly - it is very important, don't get me wrong - that many children choose school over a sport, which decreases numbers dramatically," said Wilson, who retired soon after London.

At the height of her career, Wilson held 10 records. She is still the best in the 100 metres freestyle with a time of 54.35 seconds, and the 100m butterfly (58.24) and it was no mean effort achieving these times while trying to juggle her love for the sport and her academic studies. It took a lot out of her, but she somehow managed. Unfortunately not everyone is up to it.

"Hong Kong loses many potential great athletes to schools as there isn't a harmonious relationship between schools and the Hong Kong Sports Institute. I know they are trying to amend this so they can work together and get the best out of both," said Wilson, who is now a swimming coach until she decides what career pathway to take.

"I knew it was possible to balance both school and take a sport seriously, but if the school doesn't let you take an exam at a later date due to a competition or not let you miss days, it becomes hard to keep going as you keep missing out on great opportunities.

"When someone is studying, they can only be a part-time athlete as their time is split between sport and school. When you are able to commit to being full-time, you must be of a high standard and able to compete at international events."

Wilson praised the support she received at the Sports Institute and the financial muscle from the government.

"Throughout my swimming career, the support from the government has increased a lot which is helping the younger generations. And this is bound to see an increase in full-time swimmers in the near future, especially with the new pool and sports science facilities at the Sports Institute. I think the standard of swimming in Hong Kong will increase, therefore enabling more to think full time as a viable option."