Cover Adrian Yung during a slalom event, in which competitors ski downhill on a fixed route (Photo: Ivan Milenkovic/Hong Kong Ski Association)

After Hong Kong’s most successful Summer Olympics to date in Tokyo, the pressure is on as the city prepares to send its largest ever Winter Olympics team of athletes to the Beijing games

The world stood still for Audrey King when it dawned on her that she had qualified to compete at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Aged 18, King came back from injury to finish third then seventh in two women’s slalom races in Montenegro, achieving the minimum standard required to enter the Games, which run from February 4 to 20. King became the third and final Hong Kong athlete to have qualified, after 17-year-old Adrian Yung met the standard in the men’s slalom event; and short track speed skater Sidney Chu, who will compete after his teammate was found technically ineligible.

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Against a backdrop of Covid-19 and amid swirling political consternation surrounding the Games, it will be a challenge for competitors to focus on their events, let alone gain medals. Just getting to the Olympics is a feat for Hong Kong, which has struggled to make ripples in the Winter Olympics after its first athletes competed 20 years ago. However, its three young athletes are remarkably clear-headed going into the Games, and each understands what their qualification will mean for future winter athletes in their hometown. “It’s going to be really great to open a whole new world for young people to see and have the chance to develop an interest in these areas,” says King.

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At this month’s Games, a “closed event” with few spectators due to the pandemic, the two skiers and single skater will comprise Hong Kong’s largest Winter Olympic team yet. Once upon a time, the notion of a Hong Kong ski team was about as likely as the Jamaican bobsledders ​​whose journey to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary was immortalised in the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings. Sub-zero temperatures here are extremely rare; the last officially recorded dusting of snow was in 1975. While skaters are relatively well provided for, with seven ice rinks in the city, skiers must train and often live abroad to reach the standard required for international competition.

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The 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea saw the city’s first ski competitor in the form of Arabella Ng, then 16, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to Whistler, Canada as a child, and attends a ski-focused school in the US state of Vermont. Ng finished 56th out of 58 athletes in the giant slalom, but her presence signalled a shift in attention, a stirring of snowsports in the city. Ng also qualified for Beijing, but withdrew, citing academic pressure and the difficulties involved with travelling during Covid-19. Until 2018, Hong Kong had only sent speed skaters to the winter Games, and the only time Hong Kong sent more than one athlete was at its Winter Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002.

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Unlike the Summer Olympics, where climate has less of a bearing on athletic performance, nations closer to the equator stand at a distinct disadvantage in the winter Games compared to cooler countries; Norway has won more medals than anywhere else, while to date, there hasn’t been a single medal won by a tropical country. For an athlete from the tropics, getting to a competitive level in winter sports means having the time, resources and money to train abroad for significant periods of time, effectively ruling out those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, the proponents of winter sports in the city hope that Hong Kong athletes’ visibility at this historic event will increase funding and identify talent among a wider section of society, meaning more opportunities for all.

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The driving force behind skiing’s increasing prominence is the Hong Kong Ski Association and the dedication of its chairman, Edmond Yue, who sits on the board of a number of sporting bodies, but counts skiing as his first love. His boundless ambition for the Hong Kong ski team and dedication to its progression has grown and nurtured a national team from virtually zero. “We want to create a hero effect,” he says. “Skiing isn’t a mainstream sport yet but we want to get there by making stars of our athletes so more parents pay attention to the sport.”

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However, political controversy threatens to overshadow athletic achievement. A number of nations, including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK are staging a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights record, the first protest against a host country since the Cold War. This will mean no government officials will attend the Games, leaving only athletes to compete, a gesture that China has vowed to retaliate against in the case of the US. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin dismissed the boycott as a “farce” in December, adding, “Sport has nothing to do with politics”, and promised to offer a “streamlined, safe and exciting Olympics”.

For young athletes like Yung, Chu and King, the focus is not only on making the most of the opportunities afforded them by their qualification and achieving the best results possible in Beijing, but also raising the profile of winter sports as a whole in Hong Kong, which learnt to love sports virtually overnight after a summer Games medal tally that eclipsed all other Olympic outings, turned athletes like fencer Cheung Ka-long and swimmer Siobhan Haughey into instant celebrities, and fuelled a fresh wave of interest in the city’s sports clubs.

“I was immensely proud,” says Chu of his compatriots. But, he adds, “There is a big amount of pressure. Hongkongers want to see this success repeated, but it’s difficult for us because we’re representing a city that basically doesn’t have winter. I think that just us being there is also a statement; we’re sending the biggest ever squad to the Winter Olympics.”

“I think a lot more people will see our sports and want to give it a try. And that’s the best part,” says Yung. “Hopefully I can be part of what brings winter sports in Hong Kong alive.”


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