Hong Kong coach Chan Kong-wah has urged his players to rise to the occasion at the Rio Games, saying he won’t be satisfied unless they come away with the team’s first Olympic medal in the sport in 12 years.
Not since the dynamic duo of Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching, who won silver in men’s doubles at the 2004 Athen Games, has Hong Kong been in the spotlight in the sport at the Games before and the Hong Kong coach is determined to help his team return to the winning podium be it gold, silver or bronze.
Four years ago, Hong Kong came close to a second table tennis Olympic medal, losing 3-1 to Germany in the bronze medal play-off of the men’s team competition at the London Olympics.
After announcing a six-member squad that comprises Wong Chun-ting, Tang Peng and Ho Kwan-kit in the men’s and Lee Ho-ching, Doo Hoi-kem and Tie Yana in the women’s, Chan said it was high time Hong Kong broke the mould to return to the podium.
“I won’t be satisfied if we fail to return with a medal from Rio,” said the coach, who will be sending his two teams to a final training camp in Beijing later this week.
“We are the fifth seeds in both team [men and women] competitions and if we can avoid meeting the all mighty Chinese team in the quarter-finals, we stand a good chance of medalling.”
Hong Kong will take part in all four events – both the singles and team competitions – to be held at Riocentro Pavilion 3 from August 6-17.
“Both our men and women’s team are a mixture of youth and experience, who will be able to challenge any opponents in Rio,” said Chan.
Both Wong, 24, and Ho, 19, are home-grown talents coming through the ranks. They will be making their Olympic debut, while 35-year-old Teng will be taking part in his second Olympics after London.
Ho was preferred over former mainlander Jiang Tianyi, who reached the quarter-finals in London four years ago.
Doo, 19, only represented Hong Kong at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing two years ago, while Lee, 24, made her Olympic debut at the London Games.
Veteran Tie, 37, will be making her fourth appearance at the Games in Rio. An Olympic medal has so far eluded Tie, who was once ranked third in the world in singles.
The draw for all four events will be made on August 3 when the team arrive in Rio. Both the singles and team competitions will be held in a single elimination format.
In the singles events, which allow for a quota of two players from one team, fast improving Wong is the sixth seed in the men’s competition. while compatriot Tang is 12th. In the women’s competition, Doo is 13th and Lee is 15th.
Hong Kong has won three medals at the Olympics since making its debut at the 1952 Helsinki Games, winning a medal every two Olympics or eight years since windsurfer Lee Lai-shan captured the city’s first ever medal in 1996 when she won gold in the women’s mistral in Savannah (Atlanta). This was followed by the table tennis silver medal through Li and Ko in 2004 when Chan was also in charge of the team. Cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze took bronze in the women’s keirin at the London Games four years ago.
If Hong Kong win a medal in Rio, it will break the eight-year pattern, but Chan said: “We don’t care about the pattern as our target is to win a medal. We have the quality and with a little bit of luck, we will get the job done.”
Other than the two team events, promising Wong could also challenge for a medal in men’s singles as Hong Kong’s number one.
While China stars Ma Long and defending men’s singles champion Zhang Jike are in a class of their own, Wong has in fact beaten most of the top players in his singles pool in other competitions.
The promising star said he would be out to make amends after losing his match in the men’s team tie against Taiwan at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon that cost Hong Kong a top-four position and at least a bronze medal.
“The defeat in Incheon was the lowest point of my career and I am lucky I can come through all this with the help of my coach and fellow teammates,” said Wong. “I am a much more mature player than two years ago in Incheon and certainly want to prove this in Rio.”