Hong Kong rower Chris Chan coursing on currents of success

By Kevin Kung

Rising star Chris Chan is making a splash in Hong Kong and inspiring a new generation of rowers

By Kevin Kung |

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A lot is expected of Hong Kong rower Chris Chan.

The present and the future are about to collide, with Hong Kong awash in rowing medals.

Led by gold medallist Lok Kwan-hoi, Hong Kong's senior rowers won five medals at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

But before that, Chris Chan Yuk-man, 18, surprised all by being crowned Asian junior champion as Hong Kong swept five medals in Taiwan.

In four years, Chan has come from nowhere to lead a new wave of Hong Kong rowing talent, showing what determination can achieve by winning the men's single sculls event.

He is already considered a medal-winning prospect for the next Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2018 by Hong Kong team coach Jack Lam Wing-sang.

"He may not show it in training, but in a race his determination is beyond our expectations," says Lam. "He has shown obvious improvement and made a bigger leap than others this year. That is why we entered him in the singles race, which is very demanding. To excel in this event, he has to show stability, and be physically and mentally fit.

"We haven't had good results in recent years. Teams like Iran, Iraq and India have gained strength, while athletes from western Asian countries like Kazakhstan have advantages in physique. We are facing very keen competition."

Chan, who joined the national squad less than two years ago, beat Shakhbo Kholmurzaev, of Uzbekistan, and Japan's Naoki Takeda in Taiwan last month.

His first international race was last year when he took part in the men's quadruple sculls at the Asian Junior Championships in Uzbekistan. There he realised what he needed to do to be successful.

"I saw how good my rivals were, and it was obvious I was not at the same level," says Chan, a Form Five student at HHCKLA Buddhist Ma Kam Chan Memorial English Secondary School. "I then understood my preparation was not good enough to let me be the best. The training was tough, but it certainly had to be tougher. I also needed to make adjustments to be better.

"The victory [in Taiwan] is a result of the experience I gained in other races this year. I didn't expect the team to send me as the sole singles representative - I was reluctant to race alone, because I have tended to rely on someone. But after the team sent me to compete in the singles event at the Asian Cup in Japan and the World Junior Championship in Germany, I knew I was capable.

"I don't give up easily. I am a tough person. I stand firm in doing what I love to do."

Chan says his goal is to compete at the Olympics, but he cannot train full-time because of his studies.

"I want to become a full-time athlete after the HKDSE but I hope to go to university one day when I stop rowing," he says.

Lam compared Chan's path to that of 24-year-old Lok, who won Hong Kong's first-ever Asian Games rowing gold medal in Incheon last month. "Chan has the potential to shine at the next Asian Games," says Lam.

"He may not be ready to compete in the singles just yet, but he should be ready to partner his teammates and win a medal, even a gold, in a team event."

Lam says success at the Asian Games and junior championships is a good sign for the sport, and has helped inspire the city's younger rowers.

"These up-and-coming rowers are now more eager to strive for success with a serious attitude. They want to be the next stars," adds Lam.

But for now everyone's expectations are pinned on Chan. "I believe Chan will be competitive among the seniors in a year, while others may take about two or more years to get there. His fitness is almost at the same level as the professionals, but he still has room for a lot of improvement in skills," says Lam.

This is an edited version of a story that appeared in Sunday Morning Post on October 19