Hong Kong cycling fans will never forget the time when top local cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze was nudged and crashed in the women’s keirin race at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The crash dashed Lee’s hopes of reaching the Olympic podium again and left many of her supporters, who woke up in the middle of the night to watch the race on television, disappointed.
Among the downhearted fans was teenager Yvonne Ching Yin-shan, who knew nothing about cycling at the time, but was drawn to watch Lee compete because of her “never-give-up spirit” and incredible display of sportsmanship.
“Although Lee crashed, she showed such great sportsmanship and she became my idol. From that night onwards, I wanted to become a cyclist,” Yvonne recalls.
The then 16-year-old, who was a runner on her school’s athletics team, began to read many of Lee’s interviews online to learn more about her rise to the top. To Yvonne’s surprise, Lee used to run as well, before she joined the “Star of Tomorrow” programme offered by the Cycling Association of Hong Kong when she was in Form Three.
Lee’s success showed Yvonne that it was not too late to change track in her sporting career. With a leap of faith, she tried out for the programme and got selected. But just when the budding cyclist thought her journey would be a smooth one, she encountered her first setback.
During the third phase of the programme, Yvonne had to go through a test which determined if she could make it to the junior national team. With less than a year of training in cycling, Yvonne gave her all but still could not meet the selection time.
Instead of giving up on her dream, the steadfast teenager joined the SHKP Supernova Cycling Team in September 2017 to hone her bike skills in the hope of having another go at making the junior team.
Tenacious and diligent, Yvonne left quite an impression on her new squad. One of her coaches, Tsang Hiu-tung, a former national team representative, told Young Post that she had never met a youth cyclist as hardworking as Yvonne.
“To be honest, we didn’t think Yvonne would go far, because she didn’t have the best qualities to be a cyclist. But she was so determined, and she has proven that hard work matters more than talent,” Tsang says.
In October last year, Yvonne finally made it to the junior national team. Unlike other rookies who usually wait for their break, the teen cyclist created opportunities for herself in a way that stunned her teammates.
After racing in the second National Youth Games in August, the 18-year-old wanted to take part in the Japan Track Cup I in the same month. She was not offered a spot on the team initially, but she took a daring step – she decided to ask the cycling team head coach Shen Jinkang, a highly respected figure in the sport, directly.
Yvonne added him on WeChat, and introduced herself, because Shen was not familiar with the junior team members. She then explained her desire to join more international tournaments to gain more experience.
“Everyone was so surprised, because they would be afraid of adding him on social media like that,” she says. “But I thought this is something I had to fight for myself, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask, so I went ahead.”
Yvonne did not let Shen down. She bagged a gold and silver in the women’s junior scratch and keirin, earning herself the nickname, “the little girl that competes bravely”. It was given by Shen after Yvonne fearlessly continued her scratch event after crashing, without giving a second thought to the bruises and bleeding on her arms and legs.
“After I fell, I stood back up immediately. I didn’t feel any pain at all when I was on the tracks, because I just wanted to continue the race,” she says.
It has only been a little over two years since Yvonne started cycling, but she is already one of the best junior riders in the city. Her achievements have prompted her to defer her studies for at least two years.
“Right now, I don’t want to let my academics get in the way of my cycling career,” says Yvonne, who is studying sports science and physical education at Chinese University.
The teenager started training with the senior team in October, which means she has to practise for at least 40 hours per week. It sounds quite overwhelming, but Yvonne knows this is exactly what she wants.
“I’ve chosen this path, and I won’t give up until I have achieved my goal – to ride as far as I could,” she says.
To give herself a more focused direction, Yvonne has set her sights on making the 2024 Paris Olympics. She knows it is a lofty goal, but with her zeal, she believes she has a shot.
“I’ve improved so much within two years, so maybe something unexpected would happen after four years. It’s not a bad thing to dream big.”