Asian Games: ‘I wanted to cry but I’m the oldest and I didn’t want the young ones to see me,’ says Hong Kong bronze winner Sze
The 30-year-old says she felt a burden she had never experienced before in more than 12 years swimming for the Hong Kong team
Her 30-year-old body felt the sheer weight of expectation, the young ones in the team looked to her for reassurance, but Sze Hang-yu only wanted to cry.
The veteran Hong Kong swimmer, who won bronze medals in the relay in 2006, 2010 and 2014, wanted to end her career with another medal in the women’s 4x100 metre freestyle relay but the pressure was unbearable.
As the Hong Kong team warmed up for the final on Sunday night at the Jakarta Aquatic Centre, Sze was tormented inside. For the sake of her younger teammates, she could not be seen to have a breakdown minutes before a final.
“I just wanted to cry during the warm-up because there was so much pressure which I never imagined or felt before,” said Sze. “Actually, there are some young girls in the Hong Kong team, one is swimming in the final for the first time, two of them nearly quit, but they are still swimming now.
“I am the oldest. Our team [beyond the 4x100m squad] has 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds and so it feels like we are the older ones who have to bring the youngsters up, wanting them to get faster and even beat us,” added Sze, who said the Jakarta event would be her last Asian Games.
“My body is getting older, I need more time to recover and I haven’t managed a personal best time since 2011. But I managed a PB in the 50 free at the Hong Kong Championships one week before we came out. Although it’s not my best event, it gave me at least a bit more confident.
“Still, I wanted to cry, but the youngsters can’t see me cry, so I have to cry after the race.”
Sze has been the workhorse of the Hong Kong swimming team over the past 12 years, allowing others to steal the limelight while playing her part in the relays. She swam the anchor leg on Sunday as she led
Cheng Camille Lily Mei, Stephanie Au Hoi-shun and Tam Hoi-lam to third place behind Japan and China.
She has represented Hong Kong at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2012 London Games and has also competed in seven world championships.
In addition, she is a seven-time Hong Kong Swimming Coaches’ Association best female swimmer and was one of the winners of the Hong Kong Sports Stars Awards in 2006. Sze also took part in the torch relays for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
On Sunday she won her seventh Asian Games bronze. Her first came at the 2006 Games in the 4x100m relay. She added two bronzes in 2010 in Guangzhou in the 4x100m relay and 4x100m medley relay. She was part of three bronze-winning squads in Incheon four years ago – 4x100m relay, 4x200 freestyle relay and 4x100m IM relay.
Sze was forced to carry the hopes of Hong Kong after the withdrawal of the city’s top swimmer, Siobhan Haughey, because of injury.
“Before we came out here, our fastest swimmer Siobhan pulled out because of her leg injury and before that we were actually very confident with her in the team,” said Sze. “When we got the news, we were kind of worried because we needed to replace the fastest swimmer with the fifth-fastest swimmer.
“At last, we managed to get the medal but we experienced a lot of ups and downs to get there and it is very satisfying.”