In August last year, Hong Kong swimmer Wesley Ng Cheuk-yin was facing one of the most disappointing moments in his career.
The teenager, who was 15 at the time, had pinned his hopes on making the 2018 Asian Games representative list. He had, among all the nominees, the fastest time in men’s 50m butterfly, and the second best time in 50m backstroke.
However, when the selection result came out that month, Wesley’s name was nowhere to be seen. The teen swimmer filed an appeal to the Selection Committee of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, but the national organisation stood by their decision, without giving an explanation.
Just like that, Wesley’s dream to participate in Asia’s elite quadrennial sports event had been shattered. The Diocesan Boys’ School (DBS) student was bewildered and frustrated with the decision, but he was determined to prove that he deserved to be on the team.
“Many people thought I would be crushed because I missed out on the Asian Games last year, but it actually motivated me to prove why they should have chosen me, and why they have to pick me in the future,” Wesley told Young Post.
On November 2, a little over a year after the selection controversy, Wesley made his point – he smashed the Hong Kong record in men’s 50m butterfly, with a time of 23.97 seconds, at the Hong Kong Long Course Age Group Championships. The old record was 24.12 seconds.
Reflecting on his record-breaking performance, Wesley says it was an unexpected achievement, but his swimming club encouraged him to have a go at setting his first senior national record.
“The atmosphere wasn’t as thrilling as that in the interschool [competition], but the parents still cheered in high spirits for me, it motivated me to swim as fast as I could,” he recalls.
On top of being a swimming champion, Wesley is also a great leader. The DBS team captain led his school to a “Grand Slam” victory at last month’s Interschool Swimming Competition, maintaining the school’s winning streak for 27 years in a row.
The Form Six student says he was not a natural leader, but his admiration for the past DBS captains had inspired him to preserve the school’s legacy. “When I was a junior, I thought my school would definitely win, with or without my effort,” Wesley says.
It wasn’t until he made a mistake at the school-level tournament three years ago that he realised every swimmer’s effort mattered.
The then Form Three student was disqualified in one event because he did not resurface within 15 metres from his starting point. He was guilt-ridden because his disqualification had cost DBS points when they were holding a narrow lead. Still, the team captain at the time did not blame him. Instead, he told Wesley to stop dwelling on his error and concentrate on his remaining events.
“The way that captain handled my mistake has shaped my leadership style today. I know that when mistakes are made, we need to find a solution, rather than pointing fingers,” Wesley says.
Another lesson he learned throughout his years of swimming for DBS is prioritising the team’s glory over individual achievement.
In his last interschool competition, Wesley had to give up on the butterfly events, where he could have set records, to accommodate the team’s strategic plan.
Luckily, Wesley still managed to break the interschool record in the 100m backstroke, giving his interschool career a perfect send-off.
Looking beyond his local success, Wesley is striving to get into a university in the United States next year to boost his training to prepare for the Asian Games in 2022 and the Olympic Games in 2024.
“My coach and I are looking at which events will be the easiest for me to meet the Olympic selection time. Right now, 50m backstroke is not an Olympic event, so I may have a go at the 100m event,” he says.
To his fellow DBS swimmers who are striving to continue the school’s long-standing success story, Wesley encourages them to go all out in retaining the overall champion’s title, but they should bear in mind there is no “ever-winning champion” in the world.
“Of course I want them to carry on the winning streak, but I don’t want them to be too stressed about it. After all, enjoying the competition is the most important,” he says.