Rene Appel could be the man to save sailing’s tier A status with the Hong Kong Sports Institute
Asian Games failure means water sports need success at World Championships and to qualify for Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics to stand a chance
Former windsurfing head coach Rene Appel, Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medal trainer, has been targeted as part of a “salvation” plan to save sailing.
In 2015, the Dutchmen left the Hong Kong Sports Institute where he had been the head windsurfing coach for over two decades and embarked a new life of sailing around the world on a yacht with his wife.
But after becoming one of only two tier A sports at the Institute that failed to lift a gold medal at the Asian Games in Indonesia this summer, sailing now faces a do-or-die mission in the next two years. The former windsurfing coach immediately came to their mind.
“We want to bring Appel back as a consultant as he knows water sports here well,” said Sailing Federation president Tong Yui-shing. “We need someone who has a strong local background as we are racing against time to save our tier A status at the Sports Institute.”
Tong said Steven Lovegrove, the head sailing coach at the Sports Institute, will be leaving Hong Kong next month when his contract expires.
“The next two years will be pivotal as we need immediate results to secure our future. If we go through all the procedures of recruiting a new head coach, we may not get it done until several months later and then we need another several months before the new coach gets to know what’s happening here. We don’t have the luxury of doing this.”
The chief said he would talk to Appel and persuade him to take up the offer when the former head coach returns to Hong Kong next month. “We have approached the Sports Institute and they don’t have too much objection to the idea. We hope we can convince the coach to help us,” said Tong.
Appel, who first came to Hong Kong in the mid 1980s, led boardsailor Lee Lai-shan to win a silver medal at the 1990 Asian Games a year after he became her coach and six years later, a women’s mistral gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.
Lee’s victory remains the best result for any Hong Kong athlete on the international stage.
Sailing, along with tennis, were the only two of 17 tier A programmes at the Sports Institute that returned with no gold medal from the Indonesia Games.
Their athletes must now meet the Sports Institute’s 10-point benchmark across junior and senior international events in the next two years before winning a medal at the World Championships or qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Failing to do so means they will lose tier A status in April 2021 and with it millions in financial support across coaching, sports science and sports medicine and athlete development.
“We need to adjust our focus in the next two years, pulling all the possible resources to help the classes that have a real medal chance at international events and ultimately qualifying to the Tokyo Games in 2020. Then, we can keep our place at the Sports Institute,” said Tong.
Other than the three windsurfing events, Hong Kong entered five sailing classes in Jakarta, but none of them came close to challenging for a medal.