Year in review: Asian Games success headlines Hong Kong sporting triumphs in landmark 2018
- Our reporters look back at the sporting highlights and lowlights of the last 12 months
- We also take a look ahead at what lies in store for 2019 and in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020
It was a year that included the Asian Games, where a record Hong Kong delegation took part in Indonesia, huge global events like the Fifa World Cup and a plenty of action here in the city.
Our reporters take a look back at the highs and lows of local sport, plus what lies ahead in the immediate future.
As a largely successful 2018 draws to a close, there is no reason not to look ahead to 2019 with optimism.
After all, the past 12 months have seen some marvellous achievements by Hong Kong sportsmen and women, as you will read more of below.
Siobhan Haughey continued to make waves on the US varsity swimming circuit. By the time Tokyo comes around, Sarah Lee Wai-sze‘s successor as Hong Kong’s bona fide world-level athlete could be ready to take up the baton.
There were disappointments, of course. We might never have a chance as good as the one we failed to take to reach the Rugby World Cup in Japan this coming year, and Rex Tso appeared to call time on his professional boxing career by signalling his intention to compete at Tokyo 2020 under the auspices of the Hong Kong Boxing Association.
With a new government funding package almost agreed, and the ground finally expected to be broken on the Kai Tak sports complex, we can be hopeful for another successful 12 months in Hong Kong sport.
With the completion of the 2018 Asian Games, we can certainly look at the results to give a glimpse of Hong Kong’s hopes at the Tokyo Olympics in two years’ time.
Although Hong Kong captured eight gold medals in Indonesia, it is not though that they will all remain competitive at world level.
In track cycling, Sarah Lee Wai-sze’s dominance in the women’s sprinting events in the region, coupled with her outstanding performance in the following World Cup series, proves the 31-year-old veteran will still be a favourite to claim her second Olympic medal in Tokyo.
In sports that are dominated by Asian athletes such as table tennis and badminton, Hong Kong remained competitive at the Asian Games and players like Tse Ying-suet, Tang Chun-man, Wong Chun-ting and Doo Hoi-kem will certainly look forward to some good results in Tokyo, provided they keep progressing.
In karate, a newly introduced medal programme to the Olympics, Grace Lau Mo-sheung captured a women’s kata bronze medal in Jakarta after losing to world number one Kiyou Shimizu of Japan in the semi-finals. If Lau keeps improving, she will a genuine medal hope in Tokyo. The race to the 2020 Olympic Games will become more competitive in the coming year and we wish Hong Kong athletes a fruitful and successful 2019.
When people think about Hong Kong racing in 2018, there will be one horse who springs immediately to mind – Beauty Generation.
John Moore’s superstar won six of his eight starts, three of them at Group One level, to establish himself as Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year.
His victory in the Hong Kong Mile, part of a landmark Group One clean sweep for the home team at HKIR, was simply breathtaking with Moore declaring him the best horse he has ever trained, eclipsing the great Able Friend.
The enigmatic Pakistan Star fulfilled his enormous potential with two Group One wins, the sprinters continued to share the spoils, while Ping Hai Star looked a star of the future with his stunning Derby win but unfortunately he was struck down by injury.
The highlight of the year was the showdown between Zac Purton and Joao Moreira for the 2017-18 jockeys’ championship.
The two superstars went neck-and-neck for the last six weeks of the season and it carried even more importance after the Magic Man announced he would be leaving Hong Kong and attempting to get a licence in Japan.
Of course, the battle went down to the final meeting of the season with Purton prevailing by two winners and Moreira was only away for three months before returning as stable rider for John Size, who won his 10th championship with a minimum of fuss.
Outside that, the official opening of the new training centre at Conghua in August was a point of celebration for the Jockey Club, but the year ended on a sad note though with confirmation visiting jockey Tye Angland suffered serious spinal injuries in a fall at Sha Tin in November.
Arabella Ng made history by becoming the first skier in the city to compete at the Winter Olympics Games in Pyeongchang in February. Her groundbreaking achievement as she negotiated the women’s slalom could best sum up Hong Kong’s overall athletic performance for 2018 – slow, steady and nothing spectacular.
Ng finished 56th out of 58 skiers in her event but it was an experience the now 17-year-old will long remember and this to me was the most memorable moment for a Hong Kong athlete in 2018. The sight of Ng wearing the Olympic rings on her ski suit and showing her talent on the slopes – albeit she was more than 30 seconds behind the gold medallist – captured Hong Kong’s can-do spirit.
While Ng is expected to improve on her next Winter Olympics, another Hong Kong athlete took a huge step backwards. Unbeaten ex-professional Rex Tso Sing-yu made the peculiar decision to take the long trodden path to Olympic stardom, announcing after his comeback exhibition in November that he will compete in the Tokyo qualifiers in 2019 even though plans for the Olympic tournament have been thrown into disarray pending an IOC investigation into the sport’s governing body, the International Boxing Association (Aiba).
Football lived up to its funny old game billing in Hong Kong and China this year. Kitchee romped to the Hong Kong Premier League title unbeaten and became the first side from the city to get an AFC Champions League win, with former Fifa World Cup star Diego Forlan along for the ride.
Their title defence has started badly and former Liverpool and Juventus midfielder Mohammed Sissoko left in the blink of an eye.
As brief was Gary White’s stay as Hong Kong head coach, 92 days, although he did guide the team to the EAFF Tournament Finals.
What happens next is the big question, as it is over the border. Shanghai SIPG won the Chinese Super League title, ending seven years of Guanghzou Evergrande dominance, with SIPG forward and China’s best player, Wu Lei, the CSL’s golden boot. Off the pitch was more unpredictable. The Chinese Football Association besting themselves by calling up 55 players for a compulsory military camp in the middle of the season. Worryingly it is a model that the women’s team and club sides have started to follow voluntarily. China head to the Asian Cup in January where we will see what progress has been made before Marcello Lippi leaves the role. Ideally, 2019 starts with Jose Mourinho replacing him.
When it comes to sport in Hong Kong, there’s usually only one game in town that really matters – the Hong Kong Sevens – but in 2018 the Fifa World Cup stole the show.
Yes, the tournament was far away in Russia, but friendly kick-off times meant huge crowds of dozens of the city’s different expat populations, as well as the football-mad locals, stuffing into bars and pubs all around the island.
There are said to be more than 20,000 French people living in Hong Kong, and you could hear all of them roaring their side to the trophy in July.
The sizeable English contingent weren’t far behind either, as they really thought football was “coming home”during their dream run to the semi-finals.
It was a surreal but magical feeling watching the Three Lions win a penalty shootout for the first time in about forever, before getting two hours sleep then going to work to write about it.
Four years ago, the Brazil World Cup failed to really register in Hong Kong with early morning games not suited to creating a party atmosphere.
But Russia 2018 was a reminder that football really is the world’s game, if the celebrations and passion on show in Hong Kong were anything to go by.
Sport in Hong Kong for 2018 was all about the Asian Games, given that funding and status is based largely on the territory’s performances in the quadrennial multisports competition.
Hong Kong athletes performed admirably at the Jakarta and Palembang Games in Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, bringing home a record haul of 46 medals – eight gold, 18 silver and 20 bronze. Although they beat their 42 total from the Incheon Games in 2014, they only managed to equal the gold medal haul of eight that they captured at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
If anything, the Hong Kong contingent came home knowing they could have done better, with the fencing team, in particular, performing below expectations and missing out on at least two gold medals.
There were individual golds for equestrian rider Jacqueline Siu, squash player Leo Au, gymnasts Shek Wai-hung and cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze, who bagged a sprint double on the track.
Hong Kong’s women delivered squash team gold while there was also glory for the men’s madison cycling team. However, the highlight was Hong Kong’s victory over Japan in the men’s rugby sevens competition.
Hong Kong had played second fiddle to the mighty Japanese over the past few years but finally overcame their arch rivals with a 14-0 victory in the final, capping a dominant performance in Jakarta by Ben Rimene and his men.
It’s impossible not to start with Hong Kong’s repechage defeat. The 15 a side men’s team bowed out in the final game, one win away from a historic berth in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. They were never the favourites (Canada were for good reason, as they won and advanced to the big dance), but Hong Kong’s opening loss to Germany was a bit of a shocker to kick off the tournament. The silver lining? The following World Cup, in 2023 in France, may expand to 24 teams from 20, which would help Hong Kong chances of qualifying. It’s not much, but the Hong Kong Rugby Union will have to take what they can get from here on out.
Looking forward, Andrew Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby, which kicks off in February, could be a sufficient consolation prize for the local rugby scene. The HKRU is putting a team, the South China Tigers, into the series giving another avenue for the nation’s best to strut their stuff. It’s obviously not Japan, but it could help the game stay relevant outside of the amazing Hong Kong Sevens tournament.