LONDON, August 3: All the years of hard work paid off for Sarah Lee Wai-sze who put Hong Kong on the London Olympics standings with a gutsy performance which saw her win a bronze medal in the Women’s Keirin race on Friday.
It was the first Olympic medal for Hong Kong in cycling and only the third Olympic medal in the history of local sport – following Lee Lai-shan’s historic windsurfing gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the silver medal by Li Ching and Ko Lai-chak in the men’s doubles in table tennis at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Lee, 24, did it the hard way coming through the repechage round to stun more fancied opponents by finishing behind Britain’s gold medalist Victoria Pendleton and China’s Guo Shuang who grabbed the silver.
“I worked hard so I could get the bronze,” said a tearful Lee as she was embraced by her coach Shen Jinkang and teammates including Hong Kong evergreen Wong Kam-po after her fabulous effort at a packed Olympic Park Velodrome.
“I wanted to do my best and enjoy the Games, I wasn’t really nervous because I’m a young athlete and I figured all the others who were more experience than me would be more nervous. I am really proud for Hong Kong,” Lee added.
Her victory was greeted with huge joy by Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China who was amongst a large group of supporters who watched the drama unfold.
“This is a great moment for Hong Kong. It was even more creditable as she had to come from behind, win the repechage race, and then progress into the final round,” Fok said.
“But we were very confident that she would do well. She carried our flag at the opening ceremony and we had full trust in her capabilities. We are very proud of her but this victory was also a team effort and we have to thank her coach as well as her spiritual leader Ah-po (Wong Kam-po),” Fok added.
A total of 18 athletes took part in the women’s Keirin race being staged for the first time at the Olympics. Lee was in the third heat but failed to win a direct entry into the second round with China’s Guo and Lithuanian Simona Krupeckaite winning the top two spots.
Relegated to the repechage, Lee stormed to win her race and booked a berth in the second round where she came up against Australian Anna Meares, Canada’s Monique Sullivan, Kristina Vogel of Germany, Lithuanian Krupeckaite and Dutch girl Willy Kanis.
Lee finished third behind the Australian and Canadian to book her berth in the final. From the other semi-final, Britain’s world sprint champion Pendleton, China’s Guo and Frenchwoman Clara Sanchez advanced.
With the crowd boisterously cheering on home favourite Pendleton the atmosphere was electric but Lee kept her cool to stay on the heels of the Briton and Guo to pull off a magnificent result for Hong Kong.
I think she could have got a silver or even the gold medal,” said coach Shen Jinkang. “Sometimes she wasn’t brave enough to seize opportunities. I’m glad but not completely satisfied. There won’t be a huge celebration for us as I was expecting a better result.”
But despite his stern words, Shen, a hard taskmaster, was the first to greet Lee as she got own from her bike and envelop her in a warm bear hug.
“There were tears of joy in her eyes as she gave me her bouquet from the medal ceremony,” said Vivien CC Lau, chef de mission of the Hong Kong contingent.
“We have waited a long time to win another Olympic medal – eight years. I hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next one, and I hope our athletes will prove that in Rio (2016),” Lau added.