Cover Paralympian track athlete So Wa-wai training at Hong Kong Sports Ground in Ma On Shan in 2007. 23 AUGUST 2007 (Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images)

‘Zero to Hero’, the film about Para-sprinter So Wa-wai, has ignited Hong Kong’s pride for its Paralympians. But what else should the city know about its incredibly successful track record at the Paralympic Games?

Zero to Hero, a comedy film documenting the life of decorated Hong Kong Paralympic champion sprinter So Wa-wai, has fuelled a fresh wave of interest in and pride for the city’s athletes, whose efforts previously may have been overshadowed by Olympians. When it comes to the Paralympics, Hong Kong has a phenomenally successful track record during its 49-year history at the quadrennial Games. And, after the city’s most successful Olympics ever this year in Tokyo, morale will be high among Paralympians to keep the celebrations going by winning another raft of medals.

See also: Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: 8 Hong Kong Athletes To Watch

From August 24 to September 5, around 4,400 Para athletes from more than 160 countries and territories will compete across 22 sports and within categories that reflect their level of ability. A 21-year career studded with 12 Paralympic medals saw film subject So ascend to become one of Hong Kong’s most competitively successful athletes of all time. In a career spanning from 1996 to his retirement in 2016, So broke five world records and remains the current world record holder for the men’s T36 100m and 200m sprint.

Above Watch the Zero to Hero trailer

Born with cerebral palsy, So endured a tumultuous start in life before being identified as a running prodigy by the Para-athletic coach Poon Kin-lui: a chance opportunity that would lead to him winning gold in the men’s 4x100m relay at his debut Games in 1996 in Atlanta. The film is the directorial debut of Jimmy Wan Chi-man, who describes the sprinter as “an amazing person”.

“This story tells everyone exactly that losing at the starting line is unimportant. The most important is to know where the finish line is; So Wa Wai and So Ma Ma [So’s mother] are people who lost at the starting line. In the end they succeed, breaking through the finish line to win first place. They have achieved in life.” 

The Hong Kong 2020 Paralympics delegation will consist of 24 athletes encompassing eight sports, namely archery, athletics, boccia, equestrian, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and badminton, the latter making its Paralympics debut this year. A further team of 40 people, including coaches, sports scientists and medical officials, will join the athletes in Tokyo.

Since participating in their first Paralympic Games in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany, Hong Kong Paralympians have won a total of 126 medals comprising 40 gold, 37 silver and 49 bronze. Here is a timeline of the city’s history at the Games—from its debut to the present day.

1970s

The Sports Association for the Physically Handicapped was established under the leadership of Founding President Professor Sir Harry Fang and Chairman Mrs Maureen Wagg with a headquarters in Kwun Tong. Hong Kong competed in their first Paralympic Games held in Heidelberg, Germany and won one silver and one bronze medal—both in table tennis.

1980s

By the Eighties, the Sports Association for the Physically Handicapped had established training programmes for elite Paralympians. The city hosted Far East and South Pacific (Fespic) Games for the Disabled in 1982, bringing together 743 athletes from 23 countries and territories competing in nine sports. In 1984, elite athletes began to receive government funding to support their training and in 1986, the Disabled Sport Aid Fund was launched.

See also: Tatler Talks To Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong’s Double-Silver Medal Winning Olympic Swimmer

Hong Kong won its first gold medal and simultaneously broke the world record in the women’s 4x400m wheelchair race at the seventh Paralympic Games, which was jointly held in Stoke Mandeville, in the UK, and New York in 1984. Visually impaired swimmer Cheung Kin Wah also won Hong Kong its first Paralympic swimming medal. 

In 1988, the association was renamed to the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (HKSAPD).

1990s

At the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Kwong Kam-shing won gold in the men’s table tennis TT5 singles. In 1996, in Atlanta, Cheung Wai-leung won four gold medals in wheelchair fencing events, breaking the record among Hong Kong athletes for the most medals won at one Games. Cheung later received a scholarship from the Hong Kong Sports Institute to train full time. In 1997, Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, an orthopaedic surgeon-turned-government official, was elected as Vice-President of International Paralympic Committee (IPC), enhancing Hong Kong Paralympians’ standing on a world stage. Wheelchair fencing and table tennis, the city’s strongest Paralympic sports, were also appointed full time coaches.

2000s

At the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Hong Kong won 18 medals and set three world records in athletics. Four years later, in Athens, Hong Kong won 19 medals, including golds for So Wa-wai and boccia player Leung Yuk-wing, and finished 17th in the medal table in the city's most successful Paralympics to date. In 2005, the HKSAPD was officially renamed the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee & Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (HKPC&SAPD).

Present Day

It took until 2010 for Hong Kong to launch a talent identification programme for Paralympians, soon followed by an athlete career programme, which offered Paralympians careers advice and in-house internships within the HKSAPD. In 2015, the Hong Kong Sports Institute Jockey Club Sports Building was unveiled to provide training facilities for the long-term development of Para sports.

For two years in a row in 2015 and 2016, decorated veteran boccia player Leung Yuk-wing was shortlisted as one of the final six nominees for Sportsperson of the Year at sporting awards body Laureus’ World Sports Award. Hong Kong won 12 medals at London 2012 and six at Rio 2016.

See also: Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: Events, Schedule And How To Watch The Games In Hong Kong

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