Shek Wai-hung in Asian Games dreamland after Olympic nightmare
Hong Kong gold medallist was ready to quit gymnastics after embarrassing failure in 2012, but now has fresh optimism
"If I had the chance to choose again, I'm not sure I would choose gymnastics. It's a hard road," said Shek Wai-hung after a thrilling night.
The newly crowned Asian Games men's vault champion, yesterday reflected on his journey to success.
"Gymnastics requires all sorts of attributes - physique, fitness, skills, mental toughness," said the 22-year-old, whose surprise victory in Incheon made him an instant national hero.
"Difficult, demanding training routines repeated tens of thousands of times over years and years might still not deliver what is needed. There is no guarantee of success."
Shek stunned reigning Olympic and world champion Yang Hak-seon of South Korea in the vault final on Thursday night to clinch a gold medal, Hong Kong's first Asian Games gymnastic medal, but his victory is the product of countless hours of training and dedication - as well as lessons learned from the school of hard knocks.
He managed seventh place at the last Games in Guangzhou before qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, the first gymnast from Hong Kong to do so. His first jump in London ended in ignominy as he lost his balance and landed flat on his backside, and failed to progress beyond the first round.
"I wanted to die right there - all my hard work and effort over so many years in vain in a flash," said Shek.
"I have been haunted by that terrible moment for a long time. At one time, I even wanted to quit the sport. Even before the Incheon Games, I was still thinking about it. Hopefully, this success can help me forget it."
As a young boy, he was inspired by the graceful movement of gymnasts he saw on television, and decided to take up training at the age of six. Six years later, he went to a sports school in Hunan province to pursue his dream.
"I never dreamed of becoming the Asian Games or Olympic Games champion when I went to Hunan.
"I just loved the sport very much and wanted to do better. It has been a long road to this point," said Shek, who turns 23 next month.
"I hope more young people will join the sport after our achievements in Incheon, but I also want to remind them success never comes easily. You need to be fully committed, with a lot of perseverance to cope with the routine training.
"You also need to be prepared for that worst moment, such as what happened to me at the London Games."
Former Hong Kong Gymnastics Association president Pui Kwan-kay, who is also the deputy head of the delegation in Incheon, said: "I knew he had the potential and therefore I sponsored part of the cost of his training in Hunan.
"I had dinner with Shek before he came here and told him to do his best. I never expected he would win the gold medal."
Shek's medal preserved the sport's elite status at the Sports Institute for another four years.
Shek, who returned to Hong Kong yesterday and is due to leave for the world championships in Nanning, Guangxi, today, said gymnastics required more resources if the sport were to build on his breakthrough.
"We have improved a lot of since returning to the Sports Institute three years ago. This proves the importance of resources for our training, competition and other support services," he said.
"We are still a small team and need more investment in broadening the participation base at the bottom and more funding for elite training at the top."
With his Asian Games campaign over, Shek is now focused on the world championships.
"I need to keep focused and not get carried away by the result as I still have to compete against a strong field at the world championships. My next goal will be qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games.
"But still, I treasure the gold medal very much.
"When I was announced the winner, I had little emotion because my brain was empty at that moment and did not know how to respond.
"In fact, I thought I was still in a dream when I woke up this morning, wondering if I had really won the gold medal.
"This is certainly one of the best moments in my life to cherish."