How Hong Kong’s ‘gymnast Angel’ is flying high again after devastating injury that left her leg barely held together
After tearing four major ligaments in her knee, few gave Wong hope of making a comeback, but she has proved the doubters wrong and is targeting the 2018 Asian Games
Angel Wong Hiu-ying couldn’t hold back the tears as she walked into the gymnastic venue at the recent China National Games: it was the 30-year-old’s first competition after two years of physical agony and mental despair following an accident which left one of her legs barely held together.
“I definitely didn’t go there to win medals. I just wanted to get back to the field, to get the feeling of competition,” said Wong, nicknamed ‘gymnast angel’ by local media.
“The Tianjin event reminded me of a similar occasion, when I walked into the O2 Arena representing Hong Kong at the London Olympic Games. Both meant so such to me.”
Hong Kong’s top gymnast for almost a decade before her injury, Wong was a bronze medallist at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen and the first Hong Kong gymnast to reach the Olympics when she qualified for London. She has a balance beam move named after her by the world governing body.
In July 2015, she was targeting a medal at the Asian Championships and a second Olympics the following year in Rio, but those dreams evaporated in an agonising instant as she suffered a serious fall from the asymmetric bars, tearing all the major ligaments in her left knee – medial and lateral, and both cruciates.
With the bones of her leg virtually detached from each other, it’s unsurprising that she wasn’t given much chance of returning to the sport.
“My doctor told me after the second surgery that he didn’t want to give me any false hope as it would be very difficult for me to get back to competition at the highest level, especially considering my age,” said Wong.
“It has been a big challenge to go through the rehabilitation period, but also thanks to these two years, my body had a total rest, which has healed my other chronic injuries, and that to an extent has prolonged my career.”
Wong was never going to be in contention for the final at the National Games, but just being there was a victory in itself for an athlete who was determined never to give up.
“I still love the sport and as long as my body can sustain high-intensity training, why not? I am 30, but I’m long past the stage of being concerned about my age as I know I’m not young any more,” she said.
“My persistence in the sport can prove to other athletes that you can overcome serious injury to make a comeback.
“Of course it will still take some time before I can get back to 100 per cent fitness, as there has been some reaction on my knee during training, but it does not matter.
“I don’t want to quit the sport quietly and if I want to leave, I want to go out on a high note. I still have the experience that I can pass on to the newcomers and help them develop.”
Wong is aiming to return to full competitiveness step by step, with the balance beam her first target as it places less pressure on her knee, before working on the three remaining disciplines in women’s gymnastics.
She will perform at the ‘National Gymnastics Extravaganza’ event next month alongside fellow HK team members and counterparts from the mainland, and has set her sights on returning to serious competition at the Hong Kong Open early next year.
After that is the World Cup series and Pacific Rim Championships before her main goal of competing at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
“I need more international exposure next year so that I can get back to my best form in time for the Asian Games.
“I won’t say it will be my last multi-sport games but it’s the most important target at this moment. Hopefully the plan can work my way,” said Wong.