Hong Kong’s Olympics hopefuls ready to fly the flag without fear as Rio proves more pleasant than promised

Worries over Zika, crime and polluted water ease as delegation raises the Bauhinia at the Athletes’ Village

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 9:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 11:35pm

As the Bauhinia flag was raised at the Athletes’ Village in Rio, Hong Kong’s delegation was pleasantly surprised to find the apocalypse postponed.

Pre-Olympic predictions had promised chaos on almost every level, including the deadly Zika virus, murderous criminals and poisonous water, and leading chef de mission Kenneth Fok Kai-kong to declare that athletes wouldn’t be allowed out of the village for their own safety.

But as they prepared to walk out at the Maracana in their bright white jackets for the opening ceremony, Hong Kong’s team have been pleasantly surprised to find that actually, it’s not too bad here.

Most of the 38 athletes are now in Rio, with the badminton contingent arriving overnight and golfer Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching coming in later.

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Many are living the Olympic dream for the first time, with “surreal” the universal reaction to finding themselves in the same company as the world’s elite sportsmen and women.

And the best of the best – Usain Bolt – is staying in the same building as Hong Kong in the village, though as yet no one has successfully landed the coveted selfie.

“Everything is going well,” said Fok. “We’ve been here only a few days of course, but before we left there were lots of concerns regarding accommodation, venues, transport, security etc, but having experienced it, it definitely exceeded my expectations from all the reports we read.

“But don’t just hear it from me. These two days I’ve been meeting the athletes, asking how they feel, are the beds comfortable, and they’re all very happy.”

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, echoed his son’s pleasant surprise, though he wasn’t for making a medals prediction, saying it was a success for all 38 athletes just to be here.

Simon Yeung Sai-mo, chief physiotherapist, declared a clean bill of health for all – a couple of jet-lagged athletes falling asleep on the massage table about the biggest issue faced so far.

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Fok Jnr added on the safety issue: “We shouldn’t let our guard down, there are issues, let’s not kid ourselves. People get robbed, these are all real threats but I don’t think its as serious as [forecast]. But of course we will be taking precautions.”

Mind you, Fok was speaking before reports that a Russian “diplomatic attache” had disarmed and shot dead a would-be carjacker near the Olympic Park.

It’s not clear who from the Hong Kong delegation would play the Jason Bourne role should such a situation arise.

Obviously, crime remains a serious concern; team China even brought their own policeman with them, who must have Batman-like skills and equipment to single-handedly protect their 528-strong delegation.

But Zika seems a non-issue, especially amid the clouds of DEET at every Olympic venue that ensure attendees, decades from now, will experience Proustian flashbacks to Rio whenever they catch a whiff of the insect repellent’s distinctive smell.

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As for the water, which we were promised would probably melt any toe dipped in it, Hong Kong’s rowers and windsurfers declared themselves more than content with conditions at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and Guanabara Bay respectively.

“Right in the marina for sure it’s quite bad, like in Hong Kong in Causeway Bay you wouldn’t drink or swim there,” said windsurfing coach and Beijing 2008 Olympian Chan King-yin, “but once you get into the bay they’ve got many dolphins, outside the bay we’ve seen whales, actually the water’s quite clear.”

Chan’s charges have been in Rio for two months already, acclimatising to conditions, yomping up Corcovado and Sugarloaf on fitness hikes and surfing at Copacabana and Ipanema.

“Everybody saying it’s dangerous and not secure enough – actually it’s quite safe, [though] for sure you can’t hold your wallet or phone and walk around with it,” he added. “And the people are very nice.”

As for the sport – apparently the reason we’re all here – Hong Kong’s best medal hopes rest again with London 2012 cycling bronze winner Sarah Lee Wai-sze, who coach Shen Jinkang says “is in the best form she’s ever been”. And table tennis and badminton might have contenders too, though tough draws have already dented those aspirations.

Swimmer Stephanie Au Hoi-shun will carry the flag at the Maracana. “I am not even nervous,” she said. “I am just so excited I fear I’ll have used up all my energy jumping up and down before getting inside the venue!”

Hopefully that’s all Team HK have to fear over the next two weeks.