Meet Hong Kong’s most underrated champion: Shek Wai-hung overcomes serious injury to win back-to-back Asian Games gold medals
- Following Incheon Games victory in 2014, the vault gymnast repeats the feat again in Jakarta
- After serious injury, 27-year-old is setting his sights on 2020 Olympic Games
Many could have predicted that track cycling star Sarah Lee Wai-sze would successfully defend her two gold medals in sprint and keirin at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia this summer.
Indeed, other gold medals won by Hong Kong athletes in Jakarta were not too difficult to foresee such as Cheung King-lok’s and Leung Chun-wing’s in the men’s madison in track cycling, especially after the pair was crowned champion in a World Cup series event in Minsk, Belarus earlier this year.
The men’s individual event, won by Leo Au Chun-ming, and the women’s squash team golds were also heavily touted by the local media as pre-tournament favourites while the men’s rugby sevens team were always, at least, medal contenders, with Japan the only real obstacle in their way.
Watch: Hong Kong’s most underrated champion: Shek Wai-hung
However, gymnast Shek Wai-hung, who claimed the gold medal in the men’s vault at the 2014 Incheon Games after beating the London 2012 Olympic champion Yang Hak-seon of South Korea into second place, was scarcely considered the favourite for gold this time around in Jakarta.
While Shek’s success was one of the biggest surprises in Incheon, his back-to-back gold medal win in Jakarta was even more sensational for the Hong Kong camp in Jakarta as it was far from expected.
Not even the man himself believed he could do it again. But this time Shek performed another miracle in beating the Rio 2016 Olympic champion Ri Se-gwang of North Korea, a two-time world champion in 2014 and 2015.
“I did think of winning a medal before the Jakarta Games but never a gold which came as a bit of a surprise, to be honest,” said 27-year-old Shek, who is now in Doha for the World Championships, where he is competing only in one individual event – the men’s vault.
“As an athlete, it was too good to be true because it’s never easy to defend your title in a major multi-sport games. While you need to hang in there to maintain your standard for another four years before you get the chance again, you also need to overcome the pressure of being there as defending champion.
“Fortunately, I was never considered the favourite in Jakarta even though I won the event four years ago in Incheon, but there was certainly the pressure to win at least another medal. I am so happy that I was able to channel that pressure to give me the initiative that pushed me to do better.
“But I would also say the difference among the top contenders was very small. If you made a minor mistake on the day, you would be immediately out of contention, but if you were to deliver two good jumps under pressure, it could be your day and you had a chance of becoming champion.”
The reigning Olympic and two-time world champion, favourite Ri of North Korea, appeared to crack under pressure in Jakarta after making a huge blunder on his first jump in the final, virtually ruling him out of the race for gold even before the second jump. The Olympic champion eventually finished a disappointing fifth.
Shek was in second place after the first jump, 0.1 points behind upcoming Kim Han-sol of South Korea, who had also pocketed a gold medal in the floor exercise the day before.
Kim performed another beautiful second jump and thought he had already scored sufficient points to secure a second gold in Jakarta.
The South Korean was so happy that he failed to acknowledge the judges after landing and was deducted a significant 0.3 points. That mistake was to cost him dearly.
Shek, the last to jump after finishing first in the qualifiers, completed an excellent second routine and in the end beat the Korean by a slight margin of just 0.062 points after two jumps.
“If you make a mistake, you will suffer and it happens all the time in sport,” said Hong Kong Gymnastics Association chairman Cheung Siu-yin when referring to the South Korean’s blunder. “But you must also pay tribute to Shek for his persistence. He suffered a major shoulder injury after the Incheon Games and as a result, he failed to make it to the Rio Olympics two years later.
“It was a major blow to his career, but Shek was never discouraged. He came back a year later after recovering from shoulder surgery and picked up his form again to achieve another great result in Jakarta.
“It’s so difficult to win back-to-back gold medal in the Asian Games and you can think how many Hong Kong athletes have achieved that before,” Cheung added.
“Shek will now have to put the Asian Games glory behind him with the Olympic Games his next target. If he can keep injury free in the cycle leading up to the Tokyo Games, he will have the chance of challenging for an Olympic medal in 2020.”
Hong Kong athletes that have won back-to-back Asian Games gold medals
Lee Lai-shan (windsurfing, women’s mistral) – 1998 Bangkok and 2002 Busan
Wong Kam-po (cycling, men’s road race) – 2006 Doha and 2010 Guangzhou
Chan King-yin (windsurfing, men’s mistral) – 2006 Doha and 2010 Guangzhou
Marco Fu Ka-chun and Chan Kwok-ming (snooker, men’s team) 1998 Bangkok and 2002 Busan
Sarah Lee Wai-sze (track cycling, women’s sprint and keirin) 2014 Incheon and 2018 Jakarta
Shek Wai-hung (gymnastics, men’s vault) 2014 Incheon and 2018 Jakarta