It’s 8pm, and skater Sidney Chu has finished another day of training and media interviews. He is one of the three athletes forming Hong Kong’s largest Winter Olympics delegation, along with alpine skiers Adrian Yung and Audrey King, and is heading to Beijing for the 2022 Games in a few short days. (Note: Sidney left for Beijing on January 27.)
Hong Kong-born Sidney got his first touch of the ice playing hockey as a kid. From there, he fell in love with speed skating – with the thrill of going fast and the constant urge to get better, to overtake somebody.
Ten years of hard training, six days a week, six to 10 hours a day, have led up to the 22-year-old’s Olympic qualification in December. “With Wu Dajing who’s [no. 2 in the world] in the 500 metre to my left, and Hwang Dae-heon [who’s no. 5 in the world] to my right, you start to get a feeling of self-doubt. Getting this Olympic ticket feels like a miracle.”
Triumph on the Olympic path
The short track athlete broke his ankle in 2018, months before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic qualifiers. But Sidney credits the failure as solidifying his Olympic dream. “I learned so much about what being an athlete really means. Fighting towards going on the Olympic stage became a commitment to myself and to the people that have given me the opportunity to even have this dream.”
The coronavirus pandemic restricted the five-member Hong Kong speed skating team to dry land workouts for almost all of 2020, unable to enter the mainland where they do a bulk of their training. “We basically had less than a year to train professionally for Olympic qualification.”
On quarantining for 21 days in order to do pre-Games promotion in Hong Kong: “We start to lose our grip and sensitivity after three days off the ice, so imagine three weeks.”
Snowy dreams of Hong Kong athletes
Unlike alpine skiing, where qualification is based on the average of the athlete’s seven best events in the last two years, short track speed skaters have to rank in the top 32 in the world to qualify for the Olympics.
“It’s incredible that in a city with no ice or snow, our whole team’s at that high level. Compared to 2015 when some of us were lapped, now we’re always there with everybody at the finish line.”
For someone who has dedicated their life to a sport, aiming for the Olympics as the “most prestigious stage, the most beautiful ending or start to anyone’s athletic career,” it may be disappointing that the scale of this Olympics has to be smaller than others because of the pandemic. “I’ve always had the dream of hugging my mom and dad at the finish line,” but, he says, “it is what it is.”
Giving back to the skating sport
And Sidney may understand the restrictions of the situation more than most. The biology and public health degree holder is applying to med school, hoping to enter a program in the next few years. But his aspirations don’t end there. Having already earned the label of ‘Winter Olympian’, Sidney hopes to give other youth in Hong Kong the opportunity to excel in a sport that he says has changed his life.
The skater wants to open a club or academy, saying “There’s a lot of talent in Hong Kong. It’s sad because skating isn’t part of the culture.”
He also hopes that increased interest will finally get an international standard sized rink built in the city. “There’s a lot of factors involved in why Hong Kong is really a terrible place to train for short track speed skating… in the World Cup Circuit, it’s just us and India that don’t have an Olympic sized rink,” Sidney laughs.
Humble and well-spoken, the 22-year-old doesn’t mention the prospect of winning a medal, saying the goal is to inspire young people to “try that sport they see on TV.” In his words, “We hear other coaches be like, “Watch out for this guy from Hong Kong.”
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games will be streamed from February 4 to 20, 2022. Cheer on Hong Kong’s team of three on five free TVB channels:
- Sidney Chu in men’s 500m speed skating on February 11,
- Audrey King in the women’s slalom on February 9,
- Adrian Yung in the men’s giant slalom on February 13 and men’s slalom on February 16.
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Header image credits: Michael Chu