The year 2020 is certainly one to forget after the pandemic threw Hong Kong’s and the world’s sports calendar into a sorry state of flux. But as we welcome 2021, Hong Kong’s small band of world-class athletes have capitalised on the opportunity to improve themselves further ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, which have been pushed to this summer. Thanks to the Hong Kong Sports Institute, the city’s top athletes are able to continue their tailored training schedules in a safe, closed camp environment. Hong Kong first took part in the Olympic Games under its own name at the 1952 Helsinki Games before claiming its first gold medal through windsurfer Lee Lai-shan at the 1996 Atlanta Games. But never have we had so many genuine medal hopefuls heading into a Games. 2021 could become a great year for Hong Kong sport. Coronavirus latest: Tokyo Olympics delayed; Singapore shuts bars Cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze, swimmer Siobhan Haughey, karate exponent Grace Lau Mo-sheung and fencer Vivian Kong Man-wai will all be challenging for medals. And we shouldn’t underestimate table tennis mixed doubles duo Doo Hoi-kem and Wong Chun-ting, windsurfer Hayley Chan Hei-man and the men’s team foil, which features a number of young, fast improving fencers. They are capable of surprising anybody on their day. Track cyclist Lee remains a force to be reckoned with in the two sprinting events – individual sprint and keirin – and although she will turn 34 in May, she is still a favourite in both events. Lee has for years been considered one of the toughest athletes who has endured the most demanding training routines. Age is an important element in sprinting events, which require the legs to overwhelm an opponent’s, and therefore the Olympics’ 12-month delay could feasibly impact her chances, especially considering the challenge of a group of powerful new generation track riders from Germany and Canada. However, Lee’s experience and exposure at the highest level will play an important role, and could make the difference in a blink-of-an-eye moment in the sprints. Other Hong Kong medal hopefuls, however, will be happy to gain the extra time as they prepare for Tokyo. Haughey has shown massive improvement, earning SwimSwam’s 2020 award for Asian female swimmer of the year for the second year in a row. At the beginning of 2020, the 23-year-old proved her form in Fina’s Champions Series 1 and 2, where she captured two gold and two silver medals in the 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle respectively. Haughey reflects on ‘world record’ and family time after ISL stint Following a lockdown in Michigan in April and May, she returned to Hong Kong to train at the Sports Institute and gradually got back to her top form. In August, she swam a fantastic trial in the 200m freestyle at the Fo Tan complex with a time of one minute and 54.44 seconds, faster than the Asian record 1:54.85 held by Rikako Ikee of Japan. Haughey tested her speed again during the International Swimming League in Budapest in October, busting out the fastest short course 100m freestyle time of her life in the final. The former Michigan Wolverine nailed a massive 50.94 as leadoff in Energy Standard 4x100m freestyle relay. A new Hong Kong and Asian record was set that also saw her claim her place as the world’s third fastest female in the event’s history. She also destroyed the record books in the 200m freestyle, bringing down her own Asian record to win the final in 1:51.11. In doing so, Haughey bumped herself up to become the world’s second fastest performer all-time, sitting only behind Swedish speedster Sarah Sjostrom and her 1:50.43 from 2017. Haughey has now established herself among the best in the world, and her next target will be bringing Hong Kong a first swimming Olympic medal. Kong ended the 2019 season with the top spot in the world rankings when she snatched the first ever medal for Hong Kong at the world championships with an individual épée bronze medal in Budapest. Unfortunately, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee at the event, forcing her to return to Hong Kong without taking part in the team event in the Hungarian capital. It was the second time she injured her ACL after surgery in her left knee in August, 2017. Amazingly, Kong returned to action in late 2019 but was never able to reproduce the results that saw her win two World Cup golds at the start of the year. Her world ranking has dropped to seventh. The Games’ postponement has worked in Kong’s favour, as the 26-year-old will have more time to recuperate and reach her peak again. Lau has been in the world’s top four for a number of years in the women’s kata and the Tokyo Games are her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of winning an Olympic medal, as the sport has already been excluded from Paris 2024. It is making a short-lived debut in Tokyo as a traditional Japanese martial arts. The 29-year-old was forced to stay in the United States for most of 2020 after leaving Hong Kong in February to compete in the Premier Leagues of Dubai and Salzburg before moving to what she hoped was a temporary training base in Miami – at the time, a place largely untouched by the pandemic. But the virus’ rapid development in the United States surprised the world and the Hongkonger wound up stranded before being able to return to Hong Kong in November. The long ‘exile’, however, did give Lau the opportunity to focus on her training in a small dojo that was insulated from Covid-19. Hong Kong has won only three Olympic medals in 69 years, having sent athletes to 16 of the 17 Olympics in that period (no team went to Moscow in 1980). But with Lee, Lau, Kong and Haughey leading the way, we can dream of doubling that in one fell swoop in Tokyo.