Knee-sy does it for Hong Kong’s sports scene in our review of the biggest and best stories from 2017
Records were broken and superstar footballers were put back together in 12 months that saw Hong Kong welcome the best in the world and compete
It’s been a big old year for Hong Kong sport and arguably nothing was bigger (or older) than the knee of a 1.95m, 95kg, 35-year-old soccer superstar.
Hongkonger and world renowned knee surgeon Freddie Fu Hou-koeng was the specialist sought out by Zlatan Ibrahimovic to save his career after the Manchester United forward suffered an injury that ruled him out of the season run-in and Europa League final.
The massive Swede is already back in action but was cryptic about the true extent of his injury after his return: “If people knew the real injury, they would be in shock that I was even playing. It was more than the knee but I will keep it personal.” Fu said that Zlatan “will play on for many years”.
Marco Fu Ka-chun made his claim for the title of Hong Kong’s best ever athlete by having a record year on the green baize. The 39-year-old cueman was a semi-finalist at the Hong Kong Masters as well as the Six-red World Championship in Bangkok as he rose to a highest-ever fifth in the world two decades into his professional career.
While Fu might, or might not be the best ever, there is no doubt who’s the current king of the local sports scene.
Hong Kong’s first pro boxer Rex Tso sing-yu extended his winning run to 22-0 by winning both his sell-out bouts, the most recent a clash with Kohei Kono at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in which Tso took a headbutt to the eye. That has ruled the 30-year-old out for at least the first few months of next year but it could be an even bigger 2018 with a Kono rematch – who has said he wants one – or a shot at another super flyweight belt both on the cards. The boxer put his success down to eating like a goat – yes, an actual goat – in a year where his popularity was proved by topping Hong Kong’s Google searches.
Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching had a breakout year and having turned pro on the Symetra Tour she was front of the queue for an LPGA card after finishing second at Q School. Chan might have had a little advantage from her time at Daytona State College when she called the Daytona Beach course home but becoming the first Hong Kong player on the top women’s tour is a remarkable achievement.
Hong Kong had model athletes in more ways than one. Hong Kong high-jump queen Cecilia Yeung Man-wai excelled on the athlete half of her athlete-model billing with medals at events across the region including silver at her debut Asian Athletics Championships.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong-raised model Mia Kang made her professional Muay Thai debut and was immediately signed up to a leading MMA agency and is expected to fight next year. She also found the time to make the rookie class of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue.
In other MMA news, Hong Kong fighter Ramona Pascual’s career opportunities were greatly enhanced by taking part in South Korean reality show Fearless Guys. Her time on the show earned her a fight against Jin Seo-woo on the Xiaomi Road FC 45 XX card in Seoul in December. Pascual won by unanimous decision to end the year on a high.
The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon went from strength to strength as the race record was beaten in the men’s marathon by Ethiopia’s Melaku Belachew in 2:10:31. In all, 74,000 took part across the full distance, half marathon and 10km – with a record 18,500 doing the marathon – after more than 110,000 had applied to run. Even more will run the full race in 2018 as Hong Kong’s love affair with distance deepens although the overall number of participants will remain capped at 74,000.
One man who certainly seems to have caught the distance bug is Chik Wing-keung, who ran a mind-boggling seven marathons in seven continents in just seven days. All the more remarkable given he professes to “hate running”.
Over in Hong Kong’s biggest non-participatory sporting event everyone was a winner once again at as the world descended upon Hong Kong stadium for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) 17 August 2017
In 15-a-side, the Women’s Rugby World Cup was bittersweet for Hong Kong on their debut. A three-week trip to Ireland memorable for a 121-0 loss to New Zealand and more creditable try-scoring hammerings at the hands of Wales, which included the country’s first ever Women’s World Cup try, and Japan.
The Hong Kong T20 Blitz was won outright by the Kowloon Cantons after sharing the trophy in 2016, with a surprising hero in the final. Instead of West Indian superstars Dwayne Smith or Marlon Samuels it was Hong Kong’s Babar Hayat who won the match with 76 off 40 balls. The Cantons would have had even more stardust to call on but for injuries to Tymal Mills and Shaid Afridi, and the Indian cricket board refusing to let Yusuf Pathan take part.
This year’s Formula E Hong Kong E-Prix was packed with incident long past the final car crossing the finish line. On day one, Sam Bird crashed into the garage but still won a chaotic first race before race leader Edoardo Mortara span out while trying to smash the lap record on day two. That allowed Daniel Abt in for a birthday win but the German was subsequently found to have breached rules regarding the labelling of parts and was disqualified.
To make matters worse for Abt, he and the other pro drivers were also beaten by a 13-year-old boy during the race weekend when Kobe Wong bested them all on the Formula E simulator. Over in the rapidly growing trail running scene, a nine-year-old girl put in the hard yards to steal the show from the adults in the 14km at the C3fit Bonaqua Action SPRINT Trail Series.
Another young Hongkonger is flying the flag in English football. Dai Wai-tsun, or Tsun Dai as he is known in England, plays for League One side Bury, where he has worked his way into the first team squad after impressing in preseason. The 18-year-old former captain of Barcelona Hong Kong soccer school penned a deal keeping him at the club until 2020 but his biggest achievement so far is making it on to FIFA 18 , the only Hong Kong player on the game. Here’s his real-life assist for Jermaine Beckford from a corner:
— Patrick loves sports (@ptsportsfans) 19 August 2017
Dai could be enticed to play closer to home after new rules were introduced by the Chinese Football Association to allow Hong Kong players to once again be registered as domestic by clubs in the Chinese Super League and China League One. Aside from the obvious financial benefits of playing on the mainland, it’s also an opportunity for Hong Kong players to fulfil their potential, according to the Hong Kong FA’s chairman.
Eastern got the first ever point for a Hong Kong team in the AFC Champions League thanks to a 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale of the J-League at Mong Kok Stadium. The Hong Kong champions, whose participation in the regional tournament had been in doubt after financial pressures, became the first team from Hong Kong to play in the group stages. Their debut campaign was marked with another first – manager Chan Yuen-ting the first female to coach a male team in continental competition.
It wasn’t all good news, though. Hong Kong football fans continued to make global headlines by continuing to boo the anthem and the HKFA was handed a fine by the AFC for failing to control that, while Liverpool had concerns over the state of the pitch at Hong Kong Stadium due to downpours ahead of their Premier League Asia Trophy. They put them aside to lift the cup with a win over Leicester City.
More footballing visitors from England’s northwest came in the form of Manchester United’s Class of ’92 were in town for one of their growing number of commercial commitments. They enjoyed a trip in their own carriage on the MTR and a photo of the Salford City owners sitting on the subway quickly went viral. Football fans were clearly delighted that former South China man Nicky Butt was back in town.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather was splashing the cash on Victoria Peak and elsewhere in Hong Kong as part of a Greater China tour that he claimed he was being paid US$3 million to enjoy along with 23 other people.
Sarah Lee Wai-tse had a disappointing year despite collecting golds on the regional stage, earning a bronze at the World Track Championships at Hong Kong Velodrome and being named athlete of the year for a record fourth time. Lee crashed out of the keirin at the worlds, was critical of her teammates and may yet be forced to quit cycling altogether after pressure from the association. Has she waved goodbye to Tokyo 2020?
Thankfully, where one Olympic dream dies, another begins. Hong Kong swimmer Siobhan Haughey finished fifth in the World Championships 200m freestyle final, the first time a Hongkonger made a final at the event. She improved her own Hong Kong record in every swim in Budapest giving her every right to believe she can star at Tokyo 2020 and improve on her semi-final spot at Rio 2016.
Despite finishing the Sydney to Hobart race in a time that bested the race record set in 2016, Hong Kong’s Beau Geste sailed in fifth for line honours this year.
Elsewhere on the high seas, another local sailing team lived up to their Scallywag name after getting into hot water thanks to a video of what passes for fun on board a ship. They were not reprimanded for an ill-judged skit involving the only female team member being quizzed as to the best cure for scrotum rash while pretending to be a doctor presumably because worse things happen at sea.
The Scallywag team sets sail for Hong Kong in the latest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on New Year’s Day and if they can reach their home harbour ahead of the pack that would be a great start to 2018.