The next San San? Sonia Lo hopes to emulate her idol’s achievements at the Rio Olympics

Inspired by Hong Kong’s only gold medallist at the Games, the 23-year-old will make her Olympic debut but the odds will be stacked against the ‘special one’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 2016, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 2016, 11:10pm

Windsurfer Sonia Lo Sin-lam was on the brink of giving up her sporting career four years ago. A promising career appeared to be waning and Lo wondered if it was all worth the effort.

However, the 23-year-old refused to let go of her Olympic dream and her hard work has paid off with Lo confirmed as Hong Kong’s female windsurfing representative at the Rio Games this summer.

She is now hoping to emulate windsurfing stalwart Lee Lai-shan, who won Hong Kong’s first and only gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“I got good results at first when I started to take part in senior races, but soon afterwards my progress started to slow down,” said Lo, whose top-eight finish in the RS:X World Windsurfing Championships in Eilat of Israel in February sealed her Olympic place ahead of London representative Hayley Chan. “After completing the public exams, I took a week off and considered if I should continue my studies or keep surfing.

“But I received great encouragement from my coaches and my family and that fuelled me to keep going.

Lo was only three years old at the time when San San triumphed in Savannah, and does not remember the fervour that surrounded Hong Kong’s first-ever Olympic medal. But she is hoping to follow in her idol’s footsteps.

“San San is absolutely my idol,” said the Shau Kei Wan-based Lo, “Actually not only mine, but also the idol of many Hongkongers. She is still the sole Olympic gold medallist for the city.”

“I didn’t know [San San] won an Olympic Gold when I was a kid,” said Lo, who took up windsurfing at the age of seven and remembers the day she first met San San.

“When I was eight or nine, I entered the Windsurfing Association’s junior training squad and saw her at the training base in Stanley. I recognised her and people said she was outstanding.

“I wondered why she was there and asked my mum if she was some sort of medallist. My mum explained to me that what was the Olympics about. I then realised how good she was and knew a Hong Kong athlete won a gold medal.”

WATCH: Sonia Lo talks about her aspirations

Lo, who won in a silver medal in a different class [RS:One] at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, was wary of making predictions for the Olympics, even though she is determined to be as good as Lee.

“I can’t answer the question of whether I can clinch a medal at the Games. I can only say I will do my best and no matter what the outcome will be, I can say I have achieved something,” said Lo.

“I remember I watched a live telecast of her races and she suffered from some pain. After the race, she looked terrible and went on a speed boat. She was sent to the hospital. I saw the progress. What was she striving for under that pain? I think she was superb and I want to be another San San.

“Attending the Olympics is a form of recognition. Because Lee Lai-shan won a medal, I also asked myself if I can have the opportunity to win one too. But it will take time.

An athlete can’t ‘reach the sky in a single bound’. This is my first Olympics, I want to adopt an ordinary mindset and see how well I can do.”

Lo said windsurfing has a role in “almost every part of my life”. After completing form three, she decided to study at a night school in order to train during the day.

A film buff, Lo says she watches movies to fight off the nerves during training and competition.

“The night before a race, watching a film can be a good option to avoid thinking about something else,” said Lo.