The sun is bright but the water is cold on the late November afternoon of Stephanie Au Hoi-shun’s Tatler cover shoot. Nevertheless, she is upbeat and relaxed as she gamely gets in and out of the pool and swaps between one-piece swimsuits and high-fashion looks. There couldn’t be a better metaphor for Au’s career—transforming from athlete to model at the drop of a hat, having learnt to navigate the notoriously high-stakes worlds of both fashion and sport with grace and good humour. If she is gritting her teeth, there’s no sign of it.
Later, she sits on a rooftop, her legs clad in thigh-high Chanel boots and crossed beneath her, warming up in an oversized pink woolly cardigan. Around her neck is a heart-shaped Chanel choker, and she wears a fleecy lilac hat. Her damp hair hangs in waves around her face, which frequently breaks into wide smiles. She speaks softly yet precisely with both sportsmanlike diplomacy and childish wonder when discussing her past year.
At an Olympic Games that was remarkable, not least for its year-long postponement, Hong Kong sent its largest ever cohort of athletes, most of whom were women, and brought back more medals than all other Olympic appearances combined. While the attention centred on Au’s teammate Siobhán Haughey, whose double silver made swimming the city’s most successful sport in Tokyo, Au wrote herself into the history books by becoming Hong Kong’s only four-time Olympic athlete, competing in the 100m backstroke and 100m freestyle relay.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” she says. “This year was the culmination of the efforts of previous Hong Kong athletes of the past 20 years to achieve something this incredible together. It takes a village to make that happen.”