Letting it all out: You can feel the Hong Kong athletes’ pain as they suffer heartache and disappointment

From cycling hero Sarah Lee to badminton star Yip Pui-yin, they all made sacrifices to try to make their dream come true and it understandable they got emotional

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2016, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 7:55am

Few things in sport are purer or more sincere than the reluctant tears of a beaten athlete. They tell a story of personal heartbreak that is not necessarily intended for the world to see but is revealed anyway.

In the Olympics, the pain cuts deeper because it represent four years of dedication, sacrifices and massive emotional investment – all obliterated by an error, opponent, a perceived act of injustice or simply the reality of not being good enough no matter how great the effort.

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In Rio, as in past Games, tears of joy are restricted to a triumphant few while despair is widespread, with numerous Hong Kong athletes among those whose sporting worlds crashed around them.

Sarah Lee Wai-sze’s outpouring of grief after failing to win medals in either the women’s cycling keirin or sprint was particularly difficult to watch.

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Even hardened Hong Kong reporters were unable to hold back when Lee finally came out to see journalists, many of them good friends, after a week of being banned from talking to the media in order to better prepare for her races.

Seeing that, it made Lee cry even more. After being beaten by Germany’s Kristina Vogel in the sprint quarter-finals, Lee arrived with a forced smile at the mixed zone where journalists and athletes are able to meet.

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She patiently did two interviews with broadcast television, which has priority straight after events, before reaching the written press where for the first time the knee and shoulder wounds from the fall in the keirin could be clearly seen.

Her now memorable line that “my heart is more painful than my wounds” captured the essence of what defeat meant to her and to Hong Kong fans. It said so much about the effort she had put in over the past four years since winning bronze at the London Olympics, about the pressure for her to perform by the Hong Kong public and how she failed to lived up to her own expectations.

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Then there was the emotional effort of coming to terms with the fact that the person who caused her fall in the keirin, Australian Anna Meares, was Lee’s idol and good friend.

“I have given so much effort to this Olympics and I didn’t expect one crash would kill my chances,” said Lee. “It took me a long time to calm down. I never thought that it would be Anna who crashed into me.

“We are very good friends. She said sorry but I really couldn’t accept her apology at the time. But there are so many things that we don’t want to happen in races, so I forgave her later.”

There were tears and heartache among Hong Kong’s table tennis and badminton players as well. In table tennis, Hong Kong were beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals of the women’s team event and were unable to take their expected place in the semis, which was their target.

The previous day, Hong Kong had beaten a strong Taiwan team. About 15 minutes after that match, the mixed zone offered a scene of stark emotional contrast. The Taiwanese players, one on the floor, were crying and in despair as they spoke to their home reporters.

A few feet away were Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi-kem, Lee Ho-ching and Tie Yana with wide smiles happily telling the Hong Kong journalists about how they overcame their opponents. The Hong Kong players had offered warm hugs to their beaten opponents but, in sport, your opponents’ pain is a consequence of your actions and sympathy is token at best.

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Just one day later, it was Hong Kong’s turn to feel the pain. In that same mixed zone, it was Doo, Lee and Tie who were fighting to hold back their tears as the Germans, after the obligatory hugs, celebrated their win.

Then there was Yip Pui-yin, Hong Kong’s women’s singles badminton player who failed to make it out of the group stages in Rio. Yip wore white during her match against Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon, saying she wanted to be like a blank sheet of paper and be able to start a new chapter in her career.

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Choking back the tears, Yip spoke of her disappointment and how she had let many people, including herself, down. But Yip insisted that she would fight back and make it up to herself and Hong Kong fans.

The tears of Hong Kong’s beaten athletes is not an excuse for failure given the millions of dollars that have been invested into their development and preparations for the Olympics. That issue will be addressed and written about in good time.

But what cannot be denied is their effort, dedication and the fact that they put everything into it. You can see it in their faces.