Love for speed hones Sidney Chu's Olympic dreams
Sidney Chu knows Olympics odds are stacked against him, but that won't stop him trying
Lack of support. Limited training facilities. Too young. So what? Nothing, it seems, is going to prevent home-grown short-track speed skater Sidney Chu chasing down his dream of qualifying for the Winter Olympics.
Now aged just 15, Sidney will be 18 when the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea roll around three years from now.
Since joining the national squad last year, Sidney has already shown his potential by winning four bronze medals at the Asian Championships in October. He has also qualified for the ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships, which will be held from February 27 to March 1 in Osaka.
His coach, Sun Dandan, who won two Olympic relay silver medals in speed skating for the mainland and who started to teach the national squad last year, said Chu had made a strong impression on her in training.
"He is enthusiastic and really loves the sport. Even at breaks in training, I ask him to rest but he insists on making use of every second to go for more laps," said Sun.
An ice hockey player before switching to speed skating about two years ago, Sidney understands it is almost impossible for him to succeed in the sport if he chooses to base himself in Hong Kong.
He can only train on the rink once a week at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong, for about one hour each time on Saturday mornings, because of a shortage of venues.
"I am working hard on the other days. I get myself in form through roller-blading and I always wake up at 5am to cycle for an hour at home before I go to school," Sydney said.
Sun said it was a very tough mission for Hong Kongers to aspire to the Winter Olympics.
"They often have to be prepared to go to extreme lengths to have access to the facilities skaters in other countries take for granted. They have to make sacrifices and go elsewhere for training as we don't have a standard competition rink in the city," said Sun. "I met Sidney for the first time in 2013 at an international training camp in Dongguan. Others were coming in with a basic sense of short-track speed skating, while it was his first time to skate at a standard venue. That's a huge contrast."
She said it would be more realistic for Chu to target the 2022 Olympics, but said she believed he was approaching his goal the right way.
"A skater usually reaches his peak form after 20. He will be 18 when the Games start [in Pyeongchang] and it's really about challenging him to reach that level.
"We have all seen his dedication in the past six months. He has made a big leap in his progress. I think it's the right time to give him a boost.
"No one is born to be an Olympic champion. I think the most important criterion for an athlete is that he really loves the sport. I didn't have great physique when I was young but I really love the sport. But you cannot fault his dedication. If an athlete always thinks he has a lot of time at his disposal, he will only keep delaying his preparation and likely fail in the end."
The student athlete is weighing options to modify his studies next year after finishing year 10 at Hong Kong International School to enable long stays in the icy northern city of Changchun in Jilin province where he can get good training. Critically, he has the full backing of his parents.
The campaign will inevitably be costly and the majority of expenses will have to be paid from his own pocket. The sport is not among the elite programmes at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, and the Home Affairs Bureau would only offer support if Sidney nails down an Olympic berth.