The Covid-19 pandemic remains the biggest obstacle as Hong Kong sends its 169-athlete delegation to the National Games of China, which will officially open its 14th edition in Xian Olympic Sports Complex in Shaanxi province on Wednesday. Athletes from the city, headed by the newly crowned Olympic men’s individual foil champion fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long, will take part in 18 sports out of a total 35, mainly Olympic programmes. It’s the seventh time Hong Kong attends the biggest multi-sport games in China, often referred to as the “Mini Olympics”, since reunification in 1997. “We could have sent a bigger squad to compete in more events of the Games but because of the pandemic, we could only consider sending mostly full-time athletes to the Games,” said Cheng King-leung, vice-chairman of the organising committee for the Hong Kong delegation. “The mainland authorities are very strict on quarantine requiring a 21-day isolation for any participant of the Games. If you add the number of competition days, it may take more than a month before an athlete can return to Hong Kong. “This will be very difficult for athletes who are not full-time but have to work part time or attend schools. Indeed, our games objectives are not solely on competition results but also on promoting friendship and exchanges between Hong Kong and the Mainland athletes.” Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Danny Lai said they could only send a team of one man and one woman because of quarantine requirements. “It would be very difficult for our golfers to stay 21 days for quarantine and get back to their form to compete immediately. Luckily we were able to find two golfers who are based in China and required no quarantine,” he said. Sport climber Au selected as flag bearer for 169-strong Hong Kong mission to National Games Hong Kong men’s team won silver at the 2013 National Games in Liaoning where they sent men’s and women’s squads of eight golfers, but it will only be Jason Hak and Sophie Han in Xian. Four years ago, Hong Kong sent 254 athletes to the 13th National Games in Tianjin and returned with two gold, seven silver and seven bronze medals. Both golds and half of the total number of medals came from cycling while fencing also accounted for three medals – one silver and two bronze. Cheng, who is also chairman of the government’s elite sports committee, said they had made no predictions on the number of medals Hong Kong could win this time, adding that China is a sporting power on the international stage with many quality athletes in a wide range of events. In fact, all mainland athletes had to go through qualification before reaching the Games while Hong Kong athletes, along with their Macau counterparts, were exempted. “Only the very top Chinese athletes will go to the Olympics because there is a quota on the number of Olympians, but in fact there are many more in China of similar standard and these athletes will be representing different teams in the National Games,” said Cheng. “Then you know how competitive the Xian Games is. Hong Kong athletes are strong in some events such as fencing, cycling and swimming but we are not sending any swimmers to Xian due to quarantine problems. “Some of our top fencers went straight to China after competing in the Tokyo Olympics to get more time to prepare for the National Games upon completion of the required quarantine, the same as our track cycling team. But how they adjust to the conditions after a long quarantine period remains a question. If they can overcome this, they certainly have the chance to do well.” Fencing will probably give the biggest hope for the Hong Kong delegation, with reigning Olympic foil champion Cheung leading the team. Former world No 1 in the women’s épée, Vivian Kong Man-wai, will also be making her National Games debut when fencing takes place in Tianjin rather than Xian due to quarantine arrangements. Cheung, Hong Kong delegation’s flag bearer at the last National Games, was a member of the team that lifted a bronze medal four years ago along with Nicholas Choi, Cheung Siu-lun and Chan Kin-hung. Choi also claimed a silver medal in the individual event after losing to Chen Haiwei of Fukien in the final. The third fencing medal came in the men’s épée won by Fong Hoi-sun. Choi, who retired the following year after capturing a silver medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta, is not part of the current squad. His position has been taken over by Ryan Choi Chun-yin, one of the most promising fencers along with Edgar Cheung. Cheung Siu-lun is still in the squad, with Yeung Chi-ka making the fourth member. Hong Kong cyclists out to keep perfect medal record at National Games in Shaanxi “On paper our foil team should be the top favourite in the National Games as they are one of the best in the world, even better than the entire China national team,” said Wong Tsan, former vice-president of the Fencing Association. “They only need to deal with individual provincial teams in the National Games but you never know. The National Games results involve resources allocation for each province in the next four years and every province will go all out to win medals. “Fujian and Jiangsu are two traditional powerhouses in fencing and they may pose some threats to Hong Kong. In the individual event, Cheung will be the man to beat as everyone wants to defeat the reigning Olympic champion as a big achievement and it will be interesting to see how Cheung handles his new identity and lives up to the expectations.” After his Olympic success, Cheung surges to world number four in the rankings where Ryan Choi dropped out of the top 10 to stay at 12th. In the women’s épée, Kong the world number six, will face a tough test as the Chinese women are one of the best in world. Sun Yiwen, the world number two, claimed the Tokyo Olympic individual champions while they also finished fourth in the team event while Hong Kong were seventh. Hong Kong also sent a strong 17-member athletics team to Xian, with women’s hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu, the 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist, having the biggest hope. Marathon runner Christy Yiu Kit-ching will also attempt to break the 2020 Olympic qualifying mark of two hours 29 minutes and 30 seconds which she was given only two races to achieve it during the entire qualification period due to the pandemic outbreak. High jumper Cecilia Yeung Man-wai will also try to prove in her first major multi-sport games after recovering from a career threatening Achilles tendon injury in 2019.