How does Hong Kong high jump star Toby Lai train for 16 hours a week while preparing for the HKDSE? Efficiency and discipline

The Form Five student at Good Hope School recently won a silver medal at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships with a personal best of 1.79 metres

Kelly Ho |

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Toby smashed her personal best record at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in March.

Slap, slap, slap. A bloom of red spread across Toby Lai Yan-hei’s thighs as she hit them. Just watching this self-infliction is enough to make a bystander wince in sympathetic pain.

This pre-jump ritual may seem bizarre, but it is this piercing sensation that brings the high jumper into total concentration, as well  as serve as a sharp reminder of what it takes to nail the perfect jump. 

Back in March, the 17-year-old made a name for herself by earning medals in three back-to-back championships. 

She first broke the Interschool record and won the Girls’ A Grade high jump event at the Interschool Athletics Competition. Then, she reached a new personal best result of 1.79 metres at the 3rd Asian Youth Athletics Championships which gained her a silver medal. 

Finally, she competed alongside local high jump star Cecilia Yeung Man-wai at the 81st Singapore Open Track and Field Championships 2019, and wrapped up her hectic month with a second runner-up finish. 

Toby was one of the three athletes from Hong Kong that earned a medal at the Asian Youth Athletics championships.
Photo: Kelly Ho/SCMP

Reflecting on her recent achievements with Young Post, Toby believes she is well on her way to smashing the local junior record, which stands at 1.80 metres.

If all goes well, the Good Hope School student should be able to make a breakthrough in August when she takes part in the 2nd National Youth Games in Shanxi, which is held every four years. 

“There were so many competitions in March, so I wasn’t ready to go for the record yet,” said Toby. “But I think the upcoming National Youth Games is a good time to have a go [at breaking it].”

Achieving a personal best that is only 1cm away from the Hong Kong junior record has totally exceeded Toby’s expectations, for she had always prioritised her studies, and regarded high jumping as a side hobby.

It was not until around a year ago, when she struggled to push her personal record forward, that she realised success does not come without diligence. 

“To me, high jump was just a hobby. If I did well, great. If not, I wouldn’t feel a thing. Now it’s different. I have a clear goal and I’m a lot more determined to keep improving,” she said. 

The 17-year-old was crowned champion in the Girls' A Grade High Jump event at the Interschool Athletics Competition.
Photo: Kelly Ho/SCMP

To help her unleash her full potential, Toby and her coach decided to increase her training to 16 hours a week. Still, adding more training hours does not automatically lead to significant progress.

Toby said the key lies in changing her attitude during training. Instead of letting herself off the  hook when she underperformed, she made sure each step was executed flawlessly, even when she was all burned out. “In the past when I was really tired, I would start to relax. But this year, I pushed myself to finish the last few jumps perfectly,” Toby said. 

This new mode of training has indeed improved Toby’s performance in competitions, but at the same time it has cost much of her study time.

At times she would struggle with muscle fatigue and general exhaustion after her training, and would dread having to study or do her homework. She’s a lot more used to the intense training now, and is able to get some school work done before bed.

As the Form Five student gets a better  grip on time management to prepare for the HKDSEs next year, she said she would always be “a student-athlete, rather than an athlete-student”, as she puts it.

Toby added she wouldn’t consider becoming a full-time high jumper yet, unless she gets close to the Olympic entry mark, which was 1.93m for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

From what we’ve seen from this young athlete so far, we have no doubt she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

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