The next Sarah Lee? Vivian Ma wins women’s sprint at National Championships

Teenager only returned to the national senior squad four months ago but showed her potential by being crowned the city’s best sprinter in Tseung Kwan O

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 11:57pm

Youngster Vivian Ma Wing-yu didn’t know how she would turn out after becoming a full-time cyclist four months ago. Apparently she has turned out just fine after giving early indications that she could become the next Sarah Lee Wai-sze on the velodrome, although she doesn’t like to admit it.

The 19-year-old won the women’s sprint at the National Championships to enhance her growing reputation, while boosting her confidence as well for next month’s UCI Track World Championships at the same venue, where she impressed a sparse crowd at the Tseung Kwan O velodrome.

At last month’s Asian Championships, Ma and Lee teamed up together to win silver at the women’s team sprint, her first major international event after returning to the Hong Kong squad last November.

Now, she’s enjoying the fruits of her labour as she was officially declared the national champion in women’s sprint, an honour that would usually be bestow to Lee, who this year decided to skip the event to focus on training for the Worlds.

“I would consider myself very lucky. It has been just wonderful these six months,” said Ma, who beat compatriot Li Yin-yin, also 19, in the women’s sprint final on Saturday. “I enjoy being Sarah Lee’s partner in the team sprint as she is a great athlete, one of the world’s best but of course the pressure also comes with it.

“I have only been in the senior squad for a couple of months and there is still a long way to go before I can match Sarah’s success on the international stage. There is no guarantee of success even if you have a great partner. You must work hard for success, but I am confident of making it as long as I can keep progressing.”

The talented Ma had a short spell with the junior squad when she spent 18 months as a squad member. She then quit the sport to prepare for her university entrance examination, securing a place at the Chinese University in 2015 as one of the 20 recipients of the government’s Multi-faceted Excellence Scholarship, which sponsored her four-year studies.

Sarah Lee favours training than competing as she skips National Championships

Ma, however, did not have any cycling experience before joining the squad – not even leisure cycling.

“My younger sister joined the junior programme and I always accompanied her to the Sports Institute where I met [Hong Kong] coach Shen Jinkang,” she said. “One day Shen asked me if I was interested in taking up the sport and he asked me to undergo a number of tests. Perhaps my height [1.68 metres] impressed him and the results of the tests were also encouraging. I then joined the talent programme and became a member of the junior squad even though I had no cycling experience.”

Ma was delighted to watch the Hong Kong cycling team on TV during the Rio Olympics and she later got the call up from Shen again.

“The coach asked me if I was interested in rejoining the team,” she said. “Since I already experienced university studies by completing my first year I decided to defer my studies for a maximum of eight years before going back to school. I therefore decided to give it a try.”

Major breakthrough as Yang Qianyu snatches gold at Asian Cycling Championships

After taking a silver medal with Lee at the Asian Championships in India, Ma’s next target is the World Championships next month where she will take part in a number of individual sprinting events, where she could face Lee. “I always consider myself lucky. I only returned to the fold for four months but since Hong Kong is the host, we can compete in the World Championships without going through the qualification or else I won’t have the opportunity.

“After the World event, we have the National Games in September, the World Cup series and the 2018 Asian Games, which will be my biggest target at this stage.”

Ma’s return does not come without difficulties as she needs to go through a lot of training as she plays “catch up” since she missed the last couple of years of training.

“I need to improve on many areas, not only skills but also the mental side of things but I am lucky to have trained with Lee who has helped me a lot. I have learned so many things from her,” she said. “Just two weeks ago I felt too tired after the morning training session and was crying before the afternoon session began. We always train eight hours a day and there is only a short break between them. But Sarah came up to me and encouraged me to keep going. In the end, we finished the required sessions.”

At the National Championships, Rio Olympian Leung Chun-wing won the men’s omnium under a new format of four events instead of six at the Summer Games while Yang Qianyu, the newly crowned Asian road race champion in Bahrain early this month, clinched success in the women’s 20-kilometre points race. The Championships continue next Saturday.