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Taking on the world: Hong Kong stars to watch at Rio 2016

Written by
Douglas Parkes

The Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event in the world and little ol’ Hong Kong is joining the party this August. We meet some of our SAR's brightest sporting stars, who are currently swinging, parrying, pivoting and jumping the with world's best. 

Yip Pui-yin

Event: Badminton, women’s singles

Date of birth: August 6, 1987

Height: 164cm

Weight: 60kg

World ranking: 30 

An East Asian Games gold medallist back in 2009, Yip Pui-yin is one of Hong Kong’s most famous athletes. A tough upbringing and a lack of other opportunities brought Yip to badminton, her chosen sport. “When I was in primary school, my family didn’t have much money,” she recalls. “My parents were busy making a living, so I spent my after-school hours in a community centre, which had a badminton court.” Although she has become a successful athlete, Yip’s career has had its ups and downs. Most disappointing was the 2008 Olympics where, due to a bout of diarrhoea, she lost in the first round. Bitterly disappointed, Yip remembers: “I thought of giving up on badminton after that.” Still, Yip battles past obstacles with a determined attitude reminiscent of every Hongkonger. “I love it enough to persist through hardships,” she tells us. “When I encounter setbacks, I always remind myself why I’m in this in the first place: I really love playing badminton.”

Theo Chan

Event: Men’s long jump

Date of birth: January 30, 1995

Height: 175cm

Weight: 69kg

World ranking: 34 

Theo Chan has been practicing the long jump since he was a kid – ‘since the summer of primary four’, to be exact. For much of his athletics career he has trained under the eye of the same coach, Animo Chan. Asked about how they get along, Chan remembers a time when their relationship was fractious. “I would say [our relationship] was hostile when I was a little kid as she would often scold me and I cried sometimes,” he says. It’s thanks to the now settled relationship with his coach that the 21-year-old has consistently improved his personal best through the years. Although he narrowly missed the Olympic qualifying standard by three centimetres, Chan was selected to compete in Brazil courtesy of a wild card and he is unfazed by the big names he’s set to rub shoulders with in Brazil. “I feel like a small fry in comparison,” he tells us, “but being small fry has its advantages. I don’t feel so much pressure and I have nothing to lose. I’m not expecting a medal and I don’t have any expectations, so I can just relax in the competition.”

Tiffany Chan

Event: Women’s amateur golf

Date of birth: September 12, 1993

Height: 163cm

Weight: 54.4kg 

World ranking: 56 

“It’s still like a dream for me,” says Tiffany Chan at the start of our hastily arranged interview. Qualification for the Olympics’ golf tournament concluded on July 11, just five weeks before the women’s competition commences and Chan is busy preparing. “I think I’m more excited to be playing in the Olympics than actually nervous,” Chan remarks when quizzed about the weight of expectation. “It’s just a new experience for me and I’m enjoying it.” Although golf is traditionally seen as a sport for rich kids, Chan is keen to make clear that anyone can play the sport, whatever their background. “If you go to where I grew up, the Tuen Mun Dragon Range, back then, the kid’s driving range only cost $6 per hour.” Incredibly passionate about golf, Chan reiterates: “I try to tell people it’s a good sport for kids. You can always have a go at a driving range. You don’t need to be a club member. I didn’t start off being a member of any golf clubs,” she emphasises.

Tse Ying-suet & Poon Lok-yan

Event: Badminton, women’s doubles

Date of birth: November 9 and August 22, 1991

Height: 166cm and 169cm

Weight: 63kg and 56kg

World ranking: 22

Tse Ying-suet (above left) and Poon Lok-yan (above right) are a badminton women’s doubles team who have a chance of getting a medal at this summer’s Olympics. Poon holds the world record for the longest rally in badminton – a gruelling four-and-a-half minute point that included more than 250 strokes. Refreshingly down to earth, Tse was part of the team that placed third in the mixed team event at the Badminton Asia Junior Championships in 2008. “That was the first time ever that Hong Kong won a prize in the team competition there,” she remembers. “I was playing the fifth game for the team and I won.” Poon cites the record-breaking rally as the most memorable part of her career, even though ‘it tired me out so much that towards the end of the third round, I almost developed a muscle spasm’. After sustaining a meniscal dislocation and knee ligament fracture in December, it’s an accomplishment in itself that she’s fit enough to compete in Brazil. Rueful of the injury, she says: “Although I’m lucky enough to be able to join the Rio team, I won’t be able to perform my best.” But she adds: “I did lose some weight while I was injured, so now I need to eat more!”

Vivian Kong

Event: Women’s epee

Date of birth: February 8, 1994

Height: 178 cm

Weight: 63 kg

World ranking: 17

“My mum really wanted me to dance. She took me to ballet lessons when I was four but I was more interested in the taekwondo next door,” grins Vivian Kong when talking about how she began fencing. “My mum was really insistent about dancing,” she continues, “so my dad suggested fencing, since fencing is like the ballet of sports. I decided to try that when I was 11 and luckily I bumped into the Hong Kong coach at the time. He picked me to join the team and I’ve stuck with it till now.” A bronze medallist at the 2014 Asian Games, Kong is heading to Rio optimistic that she can achieve something of note. But she is no one-dimensional athlete. Incredibly well rounded, she talks of reading The Little Prince in French and of one day working for the United Nations. A frequent visitor to Rio – ‘[the Olympics] will be my fourth visit’ – she mentions she’s looking forward to the fruit most of all. And the Games themselves? “Just one touch at a time,” she says. “I’ll just try and do my best.”

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