Header image courtesy of Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games coming to a close this weekend, many eyes have turned to Hong Kong’s participation at the Olympics—arguably the largest stage in the world for elite sports. As of now, Hong Kong has won six medals at the Summer Olympics since its first participation in 1952, counting two golds, three silvers, and one bronze amongst its spoils—and three of these medals were won at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics alone!
However, while the city is thrown into collective medal euphoria after winning three medals in just five days, many have pointed out Hong Kong’s massive (yet severely overlooked) success at the Summer Paralympics, where Hong Kong has already amassed a whopping count of 126 medals. For those who need to desperately catch up on some fun facts, here’s an overview of Hong Kong’s history at the international summer games—both the Paralympics and the Olympics.
Unbeknownst to most of the public, if we turn our eyes to the Summer Paralympics, Hong Kong’s first two medals on the world stage came during the Heidelberg 1972 Summer Paralympics with Leslie Lam’s silver medal at the men’s table tennis singles and a bronze for men’s table tennis teams. However, it took a little more than a decade after that for Hong Kong to nab their next medal at the Summer Olympics or have a taste of golden victory.
Our Paralympians brought home three gold medals at the 1984 Summer Paralympics (held in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain, and New York City, United States of America), for the women’s 4x400-metre relay, women’s 1500-metre run (Y. L. Mui), and women’s individual foil wheelchair fencing (Yuet Wah-fung).
12 years later, at the 1996 Athens Summer Olympics, Hong Kong’s windsurfing hero Lee Lai-shan cinched the city’s first Olympics medal, a gold for women’s mistral boardsailing. She then said to the media after her gold-medal win—a statement that’s often quoted—that “Hong Kong athletes are not rubbish!” Lee’s win was a tear-jerking moment for Hongkongers everywhere, as it was the city’s first international recognition on the Olympics podium.
Eight years after Lee’s gold medal, Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching won Hong Kong’s first Olympic medal since the 1997 handover—a silver for men’s table tennis doubles in the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, just behind China’s Chen Qi and Ma Lin. Hong Kong’s duo made history and sparked a table tennis craze in the city—table tennis paddles in Hong Kong were sold out as Hongkongers flocked to table tennis courts after being inspired. Now a retired player, Ching is currently coaching the Hong Kong women’s table tennis team.
Hong Kong’s Olympic highlights saw another eight-year gap as our next medal came in 2012. Cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze won a bronze medal in the women’s keirin at the London 2012 Summer Olympics—the inaugural women’s keirin event in Olympic history. Lee has had a career hampered by severe injury—she broke her wrist in 2006 and had to endure three operations. Despite being told that she would never fully recover from it, she kept training, cycling on against all odds and snatching the bronze in front of millions at the Olympics. With her first Olympic medal in hand, she returned home to millions of adoring fans with status as Hongkongers’ symbol of perseverance.
Nine years and two Summer Olympics later, Hong Kong has doubled its haul in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics alone with three medals so far—one gold and two silvers—thereby bringing Hong Kong to a grand total of six medals.
Foil fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long, dubbed the “Fencing God” by overjoyed Hongkongers, won gold for the individual men’s foil against defending champ Daniele Garozzo of Italy, who won gold for the same event at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Cheung’s medal was Hong Kong’s first gold in 25 years, and the city’s first in fencing.
Just a few days later, swimmer Siobhán Haughey won two silvers in a span of three days, one for the 200-metre freestyle and the other for the 100-metre freestyle, coming in a mere breath behind Australia’s Emma McKeon. With two Asian records now under her name, Haughey is the first and only swimmer to have made it to the Olympics finals in any swimming event and is also the only Hong Kong athlete to have more than one Olympic medal.
To name but a few of the many spectacular performances from Hong Kong athletes, badminton players Tse Ying-suet and Jordan Tang Chun-man broke Hong Kong’s Olympic record in badminton by making it to the bronze medal match for mixed doubles, narrowly missing the podium after an incredibly well-played match against Japan.
On top of that, the men’s foil fencing team—comprising Ryan Choi, Lawrence Ng Lok-wang, Cheung Siu-lun, and Edgar Cheung Ka-long—placed seventh overall. In the quarter-finals, the team put on a great fight, but lost 39–45 against ROC, who went on to win silver. Despite their disappointment of not bringing home another medal, their ceaseless drive and superb skill should not be downplayed.
For table tennis, Tokyo 2020 marks the first time our city has sent a fully home-grown, Hong Kong-born team of athletic elites to the Olympic Games. The women’s team—comprising Doo Hoi-kem, Minnie Soo Wai-yam, and Lee Ho-ching—have even rewritten history by making it to the semi-finals after beating out Romania in the quarter-finals by a landslide with a 3–1 result. The bronze medal match will take place this Thursday, 5 August.
Hong Kong’s seemingly endless list of accomplishments at the Paralympics is perhaps the strongest testament to our athletes’ grit and talent. One of Hong Kong’s most decorated Paralympians is wheelchair fencer Alison Yu Chui-yee, who has accumulated seven golds, three silvers and one bronze in her career spanning four Paralympic Games.
Yu had her left leg amputated after battling bone cancer at the early age of 11. Her fighting spirit continued after conquering cancer, as she went on to take up swimming before switching to wheelchair fencing at the age of 17. Not long after, she picked up her fencing gear at the 2004 Summer Paralympics to take four gold medals—two team medals and one each for the individual foil and épée, cementing her name in the book of greats.
With 12 Paralympic medals (six golds, three silvers, and three bronzes) and five Paralympic games under his belt, now-retired runner William So Wa-wai is one of the city’s most consistently successful athletes. Born with jaundice that affected his hearing and balance, So competed under the T36 category for athletes with cerebral palsy.
After a career lasting two decades, from 1996 to his retirement in 2016, So has broken world records on five occasions, and remains the current world record holder for the men’s 100-metre and 200-metre sprint under the T36 classification. He is also the three-time consecutive gold medallist for the men’s 200-metre sprint under the T36 classification (Sydney 2000 Paralympics, Athens 2004 Paralympics, Beijing 2008 Paralympics).
A biopic tribute based on his life titled Zero to Hero and directed by Wan Chi-man will be released later this August in local theatres, starring actors Louis Cheung, Sandra Ng, Chin Siu-ho, and many more.
Wheelchair fencer Fung Ying-ki has seven Paralympic medals, including five golds, one silver, and one bronze, and he specialises in the men’s foil and sabre events. After his spinal cord was damaged by a virus during his childhood, Fung was no longer able to use his legs. In his early teens, Fung began training for wheelchair fencing and soon fell in love with the sport, launching his highly successful athletic career.
Fung was able to walk on his own once again in 2000, a life-changing moment that he called a miracle. With a career spanning just over 20 years, he announced his retirement in 2006 and currently works as a physical therapist.
Hong Kong has yet another wheelchair fencing multi-gold medallist—Chan Yui-chong—who has been a part of Hong Kong’s wheelchair fencing team since 2002. With five golds—three of them from the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics—two silvers, and three bronzes, Chan was inspired to pick up the sport after watching a music video based on the story of local wheelchair fencing hero Ben Cheung Wai-leung.
On that note, ex-fireman and retired wheelchair fencer Ben Cheung Wai-leung won four gold medals in the Atlanta 1996 Summer Paralympics for wheelchair fencing. But perhaps just as notable is his service as a fireman prior to his Paralympian journey. A severe landslide occurred on a day when typhoon signal number 10 was hoisted, bringing fireman Cheung and his colleague to the rescue. While rescuing an old lady, an accident happened that resulted in the death of Cheung’s colleague and the eventual amputation of Cheung’s left leg. The incident did not put Cheung’s passion for sports to an end—he eventually sought out wheelchair fencing, and the rest was history.
Other notable Paralympians—although there are too many to include them all—are swimmer Tang Wai-lok, who won Hong Kong’s first Paralympic gold in swimming, and boccia player Leung Yuk-wing who most recently won gold at the Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics, totalling his medal haul at three golds and one silver.
After multiple medals won and several records broken, Hong Kong sports is now the talk of the town—Hongkongers everywhere have finally started paying attention to home-grown athletes, opening their ears to stories of athletes’ hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, as well as picking up some of the sports themselves.
As the Olympics come to a close this Sunday, don’t forget that their competitions don’t end there—the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympics start on 24 August and end on 5 September. After the Olympics and Paralympics, our Hong Kong athletes also compete regularly in various regional and international games, so be sure keep an eye out for them and show your support to our city’s accomplished sportspeople.