“My heart is more painful than my wounds,” said a mentally and physically battered Sarah Lee Wai-sze.
Hong Kong’s star cyclist admitted she needed time out to decide whether to launch another Olympic assault on Tokyo 2020.
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The scrapes and bruises from the crash that killed her best medal hope at the Rio Olympics will soon fade, but the mental scars will last longer.
While Lee’s keirin bronze-medal success at London 2012 might have been a little unexpected, she and her team felt confident of bettering that result here.
But a crash caused by Australian rider Anna Meares in the keirin semi-finals put paid to that; the pained and drained rider couldn’t compete at her best in the sprint on Tuesday and went out to the German multiple world champion Kristina Vogel in the quarter-finals. Vogel went on to win the gold medal.
Lee admitted she needed a rest before contemplating Tokyo, though her coach Shen Jinkang is confident she’ll be there – and can still medal at the age of 33.
“I feel a little disappointed about the keirin as I really thought I had a good chance of getting a medal, even a gold, as I think that I’m the smart one [tactically] and I was the fastest before the crash,” said Lee after shedding a few tears.
“I feel I could have got at least a silver medal.
“I still can’t consider Tokyo 2020 because I worked so hard for this race and I crashed and I have to take a rest and calm down maybe for a month.”
Coach Shen was confident Lee would be back in Japan.
“She’ll be 33 then but that’s no problem, physically she’s in great shape.
“I think she’ll compete in Tokyo – and I think she can win a medal there, too.”
Lee got some revenge over Meares by beating her in the earlier rounds of the sprint; they shook hands and hugged afterwards.
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Committed Christian Lee turned the other cheek but forgetting the incident might be harder than forgiving it.
“I really think I would be very angry about what she did if she didn’t at least get the [keirin bronze] medal,” she said.
“We are friends and I appreciate her, she’s just like my idol. These few years we’ve always communicated and we’re both very similar – I don’t want to lose a friend over a race.”
Lee has been flying the flag solo for Hong Kong at Olympics and world championships for years and admits it’s getting wearing.
“I really want to set up a team sprint,” she said, “because fighting alone is very difficult.
“We haven’t got young riders [who are capable of making a team for the Olympics] yet. Maybe one day when I become a coach!
“We need an opportunity. The Netherlands only developed their short distance track cycling in these years and they are doing really well. Let’s see if we can grab our chance.”
Shen echoed that, lamenting the lack of depth in his squad. He’s wistfully hoping to unearth a schoolgirl cycle star in Hong Kong.
Lee couldn’t sleep because of her wounds and said that was her main problem against Vogel in the sprint, which is about tactics and anticipation, almost more than raw speed.
“I couldn’t use my brain,” she said. “Vogel’s such a strong rider, if I was just a bit careless I was going to lose, and you saw that.”
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Now she’s looking forward to a “holiday” at home in Hong Kong, having been locked in training camps for months in preparation for the Games.
She thanked her fans, and hopes to ‘atone’ by winning a title at the world championships in Hong Kong in April.
“Every time when I almost die in training I think of [the fans],” she said. “Every time I really want to give up, they help me keep going, keep fighting.
“I keep telling myself that there is nothing certain, even though I had the ability to win a medal.
“I’ll just have to go on with my life.”
Additional reporting Kevin Kung