Starstruck Vivian Kong determined to shine in opening duel against former world champion
Youngster goes up against veteran Russian Shutova in the opening round on Saturday as she becomes first HK Olympian to compete at the Rio Games
The first taste of Olympic action for Hong Kong comes in the fencing competition, with Vivian Kong Man-wai, Edgar Cheung Ka-long and Lin Po-heung attempting to become the first ever fencers to win a bout at the Games.
But the draw has not been generous to the women.
Kong faces Lyobov Shutova of Russia, the 2009 world champion, in the women’s epee on Saturday.
And Lin (women’s foil) faces an almighty task against reigning Olympic champion Elisa di Francisca of Italy.
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Teenager Cheung won the Asian Championships this year, but rivals will be far more wary of him after that success. He faces Heo Jun of South Korea in his opener and will fancy his chances.
The team’s Romanian coach Octavian Zidaru was quietly hopeful about Kong’s chances first-up, suggesting Shutova at 33 may not be the force she was a few years ago.
“She’s a really strong fencer, I really like her fencing, it’s very elegant and strategic and I’m going to have to be patient and keep my distance well and also focus on doing my best,” said Kong, 22.
Zidaru suggested tactics would play a key part, and Kong elucidated on what that means for the non-fencing aficionados.
“Maybe not responding to the first, to when she provokes, not responding to the first one, but be ready for the second move. She’ll try to get me going one way.
“And I’ll try to be active with my blade, to disturb her point.”
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Kong has faced the Russian before in team competition but “a long time ago – I hope I’ve improved since then”.
The Stanford University student has taken a year out of her International Relations degree to focus full-time on fencing, which paid off as she qualified for the Games by dint of her world No 17 ranking.
She was third in the last World Cup event before the Games, and is more than familiar with Rio. The fencers were among the first HK athletes to arrive, on July 24, while she has competed in the Brazilian city three times before.
Far from being tempted to see familiar sights, she’s been relaxing in the Athletes’ Village when not training, spotting stars and burying her head in a John Grisham picked up at the airport on the way over.
“We have a World Cup [event] here every year and I was here in April for the test event so I’m very content [to hang out] in the village [when not competing]. I’ve been reading a book called Rogue Lawyer, doing some yoga and just exploring the village, meeting friends.”
Like the rest of HK’s team, Kong still can’t quite believe she is here, rubbing shoulders with the likes of sprint superstar Usain Bolt, who is staying in the same building as Hong Kong.
“It feels so surreal to see all the sports stars,” she added. “It’s unreal, it’s becoming more real especially after [the flag-raising] ceremony. It’s an honour.
“I’m also very starstruck by some of the amazing athletes I’ve seen: Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Ryan Lochte – though I haven’t seen Bolt yet.”