Hong Kong at 25: Reflections
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Hong Kong players celebrate after the deciding penalty in their shootout win over Japan in the 2009 East Asian Games’ gold medal match. Photo: SCMP

Hong Kong handover: 25 memorable sporting moments since 1997

  • The 25 years since the handover to China have seen unprecedented achievements by Hong Kong on the world stage, and world stars gracing the Hong Kong stage
  • Lasting impressions include shoot-outs and showjumpers, Fiji’s Sevens and Shane Warne’s Sixes, a Tokyo medal flood and an infamous waterlogged pitch
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As Hong Kong marks 25 years since its 1997 return from British to Chinese rule, the Post recalls the memorable moments in sport for the city and its athletes.

In that quarter-century, Hong Kong hit new heights at the Olympics, hosted the region’s and planet’s finest, and produced world champions of the track, table and pool. There has been the odd damp spot, too. Here are some stand-outs.

Cheung Ka-long becomes only the second Hongkonger to stand on top of an Olympic podium. Photo: Picture Alliance via Getty Images

1. Tokyo medal rush

Hong Kong had never won more than one medal at any Olympics, but collected six in the delayed 2020 Games in Tokyo, led by fencer Cheung Ka-long with the city’s second ever gold. There were two swimming silvers for Siobhan Haughey, and bronzes for cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze, karate’s Grace Lau Mo-sheung and the women’s table tennis team.
Hong Kong’s Wong Kam-po on his way to the scratch title at the track cycling world championships in Mallorca in 2007. Photo: Reuters

2. Darling of the track

Wong Kam-po was Asia’s first track cycling world champion when he won the scratch in 2007 aged 34. Weeks later, Hu Jintao, then president of China, picked up on his name – Wong Kam means “gold” and Po means “darling” – when he met athletes during a visit to Hong Kong, saying: “You are a darling more precious than gold.”
Fiji’s talisman Waisale Serevi leads his side to another Rugby World Cup Sevens title in Hong Kong. Photo: Martin Chan

3. Fiji rule Hong Kong again

A spiritual home for rugby sevens since its own tournament began in 1976, Hong Kong in 2005 became the first two-time host of the format’s World Cup, and the outcome matched that of the first. Having led Fiji to success eight years earlier, Waisale Serevi again provided the spark, conjuring a sudden-death try to edge England in the semi-finals then seeing off final opponents New Zealand.
Jockey Felix Coetzee celebrates as he and Silent Witness win the 1,200-metre Group 1 in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin in 2005 – a 16th straight victory. Photo: Reuters

4. Silent Witness’ stunning 17

Few horses have caught the imagination of the racing public like the great Silent Witness. A beacon of hope during the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, the Tony Cruz-trained Silent Witness’ run stretched from his debut victory in December 2002 to his 17th consecutive success – still a Hong Kong record – in April 2005.

Shane Warne in action at the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes at Kowloon Cricket Club. Photo: Robert Ng

5. Warne, Lara at Sixes in ’07

Late legend Shane Warne led an All Star team at the 2007 Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, giving the tournament more than a sprinkling of stardust. Warne was joined by fellow Australian Glenn McGrath, West Indies great Brian Lara, India’s Virender Sehwag, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and Zimbabwe’s Heath Streak.
Hong Kong snooker player Ng On-yee reached the pinnacle in 2015. Photo: Nora Tam

6. Ng top of the world

Hong Kong’s arrival as a power in women’s snooker was complete after Ng On-yee’s first world title in 2015. Ending the reign of 10-time champion Reanne Evans in the semi-finals, Ng’s triumph – repeated in 2017 and 2018 – put her in a select band of Hongkongers who have been crowned the world’s best.
The Hong Kong team enter the arena at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Photo: Xinhua

7. Jakarta glory

The city took 580 athletes to Jakarta for the 2018 Asian Games, and got its best results yet in the multi-sport showpiece: eight golds, 18 silvers and 20 bronzes. Three golds came in cycling, two from squash, and one apiece in equestrian, gymnastics and rugby sevens.
The state of the Hong Kong Stadium pitch caused consternation during a 2013 visit by English Premier League clubs. Photo: Felix Wong

8. Flooding fiasco

Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham contested 2013’s preseason Asia Trophy, but the waterlogged Hong Kong Stadium pitch was a laughing stock. Spurs considered withdrawing after Jan Vertonghen injured an ankle and their groundsman found shells, plastic and glass in the sand poured on the turf. The HKFA called the government-run pitch “embarrassing”, while the Premier League voiced a reluctance to return.
Soon after the handover, Hong Kong sent a team to China’s National Games for the first time. Photo: Oliver Tsang

9. National Games debut

Three months after the handover, Hong Kong joined the National Games for the first time. Their only gold medal in Shanghai came in cycling’s men’s road race, for Wong Kam-po, who won two more in the following three editions.
Mass participation events had become a rarity when the Hong Kong Marathon returned in 2021. Photo: May Tse

10. The Covid marathon

The 2021 Hong Kong Marathon reflected the times: pre-race Covid-19 tests, masks on until the start and at the finish, and runners warned not to display political slogans. With overseas entrants absent, Wong Kai-lok won in his debut marathon, with Christy Yiu Kit-Ching – the lone Hongkonger at this month’s World Championships – the first woman.
Simon Leung Ho-yam, Anthony Haynes, Salom Yiu Kam-shing and Rowan Varty of Hong Kong celebrate winning the Shield at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2010. Photo: Robert Ng

11. Sevens victory stroll

The city’s men won the Shield at the 2010 Hong Kong Sevens – but it felt like the World Cup. “In my 12 years playing at the Sevens, I’ve never experienced the crowd so loud and supportive,” Rowan Varty said. The victory lap took so long, they were overtaken by Canada, who won the next final.
Ko Lai-chak (left) returns the ball while teammate Li Ching looks on as Hong Kong earn their only medal of the Athens Olympics. Photo: AP

12. A welcome silver

Before the 2004 Games, Hong Kong boasted only one Olympic medal: windsurfer Lee Lai-shan’s 1996 gold. Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching changed that in Athens in the table tennis men’s doubles. They had to settle for silver, losing to Chen Qi and Ma Lin of China, but a tally was doubled.
Hong Kong players celebrate scoring against Cambodia in the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata. Photo: HKFA

13. First since ’68

Hong Kong last month ensured they will end a 55-year wait in 2023 when they play in football’s Asian Cup for the first time since 1968. They were without mainland-based players, and others caught Covid-19 during qualifying in India, but they booked a spot.
The first lap of the first race at the Formula E Hong Kong ePrix at Central harbourfront. Photo: Edward Wong

14. Chequered ePrix

It may not have been Formula One, but motorsport came to the harbourfront in 2016, with Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi winning the first Hong Kong ePrix. An incident-packed race before a sell-out crowd earned drivers’ approval, but a backlash locally over traffic and pricey tickets.
Sasha Palatnikov punches Louis Cosce in their welterweight bout at UFC 255 in Las Vegas. Photo: Jeff Bottari

15. Fight pioneer

The first born-and-raised Hongkonger in mixed martial arts’ Ultimate Fighting Championship, Sasha Palatnikov earned a US$50,000 fight-of-the-night bonus on his 2020 debut for finishing “The Monster” Louis Cosce in their welterweight bout in Las Vegas – after battling Covid-19 then running up Potosi Mountain to clear his lungs.
Chan Wai-ho, Kwok Kin-pong, Au Yeung Yiu-chung, Yuen Kin-man and So Wai-chuen celebrate their 4-2 penalty shoot-out win in 2009. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

16. Hosts with the most

The biggest sporting event held in the city, 2009’s East Asian Games brought Hong Kong athletes 26 gold medals – compared with seven in total in four previous Games. They swept the board in squash, beat China to win the women’s team table tennis, and downed Japan on penalties in Hong Kong’s first ever football tournament success.
The 2008 Bledisloe Cup was a first, being held outside the two competing nations for the first time. Photo: Sam Tsang

17. Trans-Tasman tussle

Hong Kong Stadium was the unlikely setting in 2008 when New Zealand faced Australia for rugby’s Bledisloe Cup – the first time it was staged overseas. Richie McCaw’s All Blacks prevailed 19-14, and the experiment went well enough to move to Tokyo the next year then back to Hong Kong in 2010, when the Wallabies won with a last-gasp James O’Connor try.
Track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze clutches her bronze – Hong Kong’s solitary medal – at the London Games. Photo: Felix Wong

18. Pedal power in London

After Hong Kong’s empty-handed 2008 Olympics, track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze earned the city’s only podium place in 2012. She brought home a bronze in the keirin and announced herself as a force: the first of her three world titles followed a year later.
Hong Kong and Real Madrid players mix after their match at Hong Kong Stadium. Photo: David Wong

19. Real Madrid mania

There have been few teams as glamorous as galacticos-era Real Madrid, and their arrival in Hong Kong in 2003 sparked jubilation, months after the trauma of Sars. Fans queued for tickets three days before they went on sale, and 39,000 filled Hong Kong Stadium to see Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and new signing David Beckham.
The world’s leading snooker stars assemble for 2017’s Hong Kong Masters at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai. Photo: Jonathan Wong

20. Masters of the baize

The Hong Kong Masters brought top-level snooker back to the city in 2017, after a 26-year absence since six events in the 1980s then two years as the Hong Kong Challenge. A stellar line-up jetted in, Neil Robertson beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final.
Siobhan Haughey’s spectacular exploits in the pool in 2021 proved lucrative. Photo: Twitter

21. Haughey makes waves

Siobhan Haughey not only won 200m freestyle gold at swimming’s short-course World Championships in 2021 but smashed the world record. Hong Kong had never before won a medal of any colour, but Haughey added a second gold in the 100m free and bronze in the 400m free. She topped the prize money list with US$91,250 – a decent week at the pool.
Hong Kong stages the 2008 Olympic dressage competition in Sha Tin. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

22. Olympics come to town

Beijing 2008’s equestrian events were relocated after Games organisers said they could not meet veterinary requirements. Hong Kong fitted the bill, and staged events in Sha Tin and at Beas River Country Club. Some locals found the dressage boring and left early, but the showjumping piqued more interest.
Super-Power Challenge winner Venus Williams receives her trophy from future Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang at Victoria Park. Photo: Mark Ralston

23. Steffi, Serena and Venus – and Donald

The Super-Power Challenge Cup in 1999 was nothing if not star-laden. Venus and Serena Williams were joined by Steffi Graf and Anna Kournikova – and Hong Kong’s financial secretary and future leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who mixed with cheongsam-clad players at a lavish ceremony. Venus won the final.
Rex Tso Sing-yu is emotional after beating Kohei Kono in a brutal bout at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. Photo: Edward Wong

24. Rex’s last stand

There were 8,000 spectators in Wan Chai in 2017 for boxer Rex Tso Sing-yu’s last pro super-flyweight fight against Kohei Kono, as he finished 22-0-0. The crowd got blood and guts as Tso fought on with an eye almost shut after a sickening clash of heads. The injury halted the bout with Tso winning on points.
Hong Kong win the Asian Rugby Championship, and begin a road that would lead almost to the World Cup. Photo: Handout

25. Champions of Asia

A lengthy shadow moved in 2018 when Japan left the Asia Rugby Championship. It allowed Hong Kong to lift it for the first time and embark on a World Cup qualifying road that reached the final stage. They fell just short, but try again this month for 2023.