Cover A self-professed "adrenaline junkie", Adrian is never happier than when skiing downhill at high speeds. (Photo: Ski Association of Hong Kong)

He trains in Europe, but says that it never occurred to him to compete for anywhere else but his true home: Hong Kong

Olympic event: alpine skiing—slalom

A self-professed “adrenaline junkie”, Adrian Yung Hau-tsuen is the youngest member of the 2022 Winter Olympic team and the first to qualify. His first taste of skiing was on holiday to Japan as a toddler. He lived in Hong Kong until he was five and moved to the UK where, aged eight, he began ski racing and training with British club Downhill Only; at 12, he was selected for the under-14 English national squad. He was then recruited by the Hong Kong team and began competing internationally at events, including the first Children of Asia Winter Games in Russia and China’s 14th National Winter Games in 2019.

Here, he explains his journey to Beijing.

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Congratulations on getting to Beijing! Did you have a feeling that you’d qualify? Or did it come as a surprise to you?
It definitely was a surprise to qualify; I was not really thinking about getting the opportunity for the Olympics. I thought I’d have to work for a few more years. When I got the message from the Ski Association saying that I qualified, I was in disbelief. It was a childhood dream, and I didn’t think I could reach it this quickly.

Qualifying along with Audrey [King, skier] and Sidney [Chu, short-track speed skater] makes the largest Winter Olympic cohort for Hong Kong to date. No matter what happens at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, you’ve still made history. How does that feel?
It definitely feels very unreal. To be able to go to the Olympics alone is incredible. And then to have the honour of going there with the biggest team Hong Kong has ever sent in history is just the cherry on top of the cake.

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What’s pushed the Hong Kong ski team over the last few years? Have there been any factors that have really helped with your training?
There has always been a lot of commercial and holiday skaters from Hong Kong. But I think the boom in interest in racing probably just came from Arabella Ng and the incredible work that the Ski Association is doing to promote ski racing. Arabella kind of helped push that forward with her history-making first as an athlete from Hong Kong in the 2018 Winter Olympics for ski racing.

Talk us through your journey! Starting from how old you were when you first tried skiing, where were you? And how you’ve continued to train and get to the level that you’re right now?
It all started when I was two and a half. I would go on ski holidays to Japan with my family for Chinese New Year. And then, from there, we slowly moved to Europe to ski. Ski racing is such a popular sport in Europe, at least in Switzerland and the surrounding countries, so you’d always see racers flying about the mountain. And I’ve always loved speed from a young age: I’m an adrenaline junkie. I saw that and wanted to have a go. So at age eight, I started ski racing, and training with British club DHO (Downhill Only). And I was also part of a dry slope club in Bracknell. That’s kind of the normal skiing that people do in England: a plastic carpet, and it feels pretty weird. I started training and racing with the British club DHO. I was with them for four years, and I won a couple of medals on the British circuit.

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Then, at 12 years old, I moved to a different club called CDC, which run by British Olympian Chemmy Alcott and her husband, Dougie Crawford, who was also part of the GB national team. I trained with them for four years. During that time, I also was selected for the under-14 English national squad. I just did races on the British circuit. Then one time when we went back to Hong Kong, my dad and I had a meeting with Edmond Yue, the chairman of the Ski Association. He brought me over to the Hong Kong team. And from there, I did a couple of international races for Hong Kong. Notably, the first Winter Children of Asia International Sports Games were held in Russia, just north of Korea. It was early 2019 and I was 15 at the time. That was the first major event that I did for Hong Kong. And then I did the 14th China Winter National Games in inner Mongolia in December 2019. I did pretty well in that event: I was first in the under-16 category, but because this was a FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) race between adults, I ended up coming 18th overall in the giant slalom, and unfortunately, I DNFd (did not finish).

How do you come back from setbacks and challenges?
The mental side of skiing is tough. When you string a couple of DNFs together, you start to lose hope. You have got to stay strong during this moment. When I DNF’d the first couple of times, it was close to heartbreak because I’d only do a couple races a year. And my dad would be driving me to these races across thousands of miles in Europe just to go to this race. And if I DNF then after all the hard work my dad put in to get me to the race, [I’d feel I had] kind of just thrown that down the toilet.

So I just decided to focus on what went wrong: how can I improve and when is my next chance to prove myself again, and that’s what started to drive me because I was the only Asian kid on the slope on the British circuit. So I was constantly trying to prove myself, I guess, trying to show that I’m not just there because of money; I was there because I had the skill. Looking for the next opportunity to prove myself was the driving force for me. And now that I’ve got a couple more DNFs, I’ve kind of got used to it. And it doesn’t hit home that much anymore.

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How have you adapted your training and stayed fit during the pandemic?
When I was back home, I just did the usual body weight stuff, like push ups, squats and wall sits. And then running around the park for cardio training. And last summer in 2021, we went to Slovenia to train. We used the outdoors: we’d go hiking up mountains and go running in the athletics track. In the woods, we used logs to do weight training.

In Hong Kong, it’s hard for young people to get a chance to try skiing, but there might be hundreds of potentially amazingly talented skiers that never get a chance to try it. What do you think will help bring the sport to more people?
Skiing definitely is a very difficult sport, especially financially, as you’ve got to travel a lot. The equipment’s very expensive. I think with advancements in technology, it’s great to see that there are new, innovative ways bring slopes to people [in countries without snow]. Audrey’s father owns SkiTech, an indoor ski simulator. It’s among the best not-on-snow experiences that I’ve had. Tou can get a pretty decent experience out of it, and it is really good for working on your technique.

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But there’s nothing that feels more real than being on snow. That’s the best part of skiing: being on snow out there in the mountains in nature and the various weather settings that you get. That’s the best part. Indoor ski domes are also doing a pretty good job of bringing the slopes to the people. However, I think it’d be absolutely incredible, and lovely to have more people be able to experience skiing on snow: going up a mountain and experiencing the landscape for yourself.

Where is home for you?
I live in England but when I go back to Hong Kong, I call it home. I feel my emotional attachment to Hong Kong is much greater than England  and I always feel very sad when I have to leave. Home is wherever my family is. I guess. I am 17 now and have lived in the UK since I was five. Before the pandemic, we would go back once a year, though it became more difficult as I was always busy with skiing or school.

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How will it feel to represent Hong Kong then on a global stage in Beijing?
It’s definitely my greatest honour so far, to be able to represent what I believe is my home country on the biggest stage of winter sports in the world. I’m pretty speechless. To be honest, I’m also a bit scared. I just want to do my best and hopefully represent Hong Kong to the best of my ability.

How do you rate your chances in Beijing?
This is my first Olympics. I’m not really sure what the quality will be. Obviously, I’ve seen how the World Cup guys ski, and they’re absolutely incredible. I guess I’ll have to get there and have a look around first. But until then, I’m going in with no expectations. I think that’s probably for the best, so I don’t get too nervous.

It will be a really unusual Olympics. Not only for the controversy surrounding it, but also the fact that it’s during a pandemic. There won’t be many spectators, if any at all. Are you nervous about not having no one in the stands? Do you think it’ll be a help or a hindrance?
I don’t really mind the crowd and I don’t really mind if there isn’t one. My job is not really to ski for the crowds: it’s to ski for all the people in Hong Kong. I guess it’s always nice. If there’s a crowd there. It is the Olympics and it’s the atmosphere that’s the most incredible part of the Olympics. It’s all the people in the stands. Or the people cheering for you. And now that that’s not there, I guess I will be a bit sad.

It was clear that the city’s enthusiasm for sport was ignited last summer. And as an athlete, how did that feel to you to see this massive wave of support?
Obviously, it was a very proud moment for me to see people from Hong Kong on the podiums on the top step for sports. It’s very inspiring to me, but also quite nerve wracking because there are all these expectations: can Hong Kong athletes repeat the same at the Winter Olympics? It will be absolutely incredible if one of us does manage to do it. I’ll be very proud if one of us does, but it’s also very difficult because I think the support behind the Winter Olympics in Hong Kong is different compared to Summer Olympics sports.

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How do you rate the government’s support?
They’ve definitely stepped it up this year. I’ve been very grateful to get all the support from the government. I mean, they’re helping me with funding for my training. I’m totally grateful for what the government is doing for me and for the other athletes on this team.

How do you think that winter sports can grow in Hong Kong?
I think after this winter Olympics there’ll definitely be a surge in winter sports anyway, because it’s so close to home. How big of a surge is the question. I think that also depends on how well we do as the team going there to represent Hong Kong. If we do well. I think a lot more people will see our sports and want to give it a try. And that’s the best part. And hopefully I can be part of what brings winter sports in Hong Kong alive, just like how Arabella did four years ago.


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