Dreams worth more than gold: Chan Chung-wang's road to the Olympics
19 Aug 2021
How does one go from being a track athlete in Hong Kong to competing on the world's biggest sporting stage? For Chan Chung-wang, it helps to be an outstanding athlete with the drive, determination and readiness to meet challenges. And fortunately for him, overcoming hurdles is nothing new.
Sprinting to the top
Chung-wang represented Hong Kong at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games this August, making him the first-ever athlete from the city to take part in the Men's 110m Hurdles event. But for those who have been following the local sport news, his name shouldn't come as a total surprise. Chung-wang, a recent graduate of the Physical Education and Recreation Management programme at HKBU, is currently the Hong Kong record holder for the 110m hurdles with a personal best of 13.74 seconds, and he was named the Male Athlete of the Year in 2018 and 2019 by the Hong Kong Association of Athletics Affiliates.
Chung-wang suffered an unfortunate hamstring injury earlier this year, but he recovered to compete in his heat at the Olympics. Even though he didn't make the cut for the next stage, he says running with the world's best on the same track was a valuable experience. "Making the Olympic team was a dream come true for me and my coach. Staying in the Olympic Village with other elite athletes from around the world was eye-opening, and I learnt a lot from watching how they warmed up before a race and performed on the track. It has also motivated me to improve my time over the coming season," he says.
A display of persistence
In his youth, football was Chung-wang's favourite sport, but he soon found the track a more suitable arena to realise his athletic potential. Following the completion of his tertiary education, he worked as a dispenser at a hospital, and then in the evenings, he would head to the track for several hours of training. During that time, he started working with his coach, Genis Chan, and he has helped Chung-wang improve his times. After all this training and practice, there came an event that made him consider giving up a stable income to become a full-time athlete.
"I wanted to have a shot at the 2018 Asian Games, so I began to think about going professional," Chung-wang recalls. "At that time, I also felt that I could make further breakthroughs in running. I wanted to see where my limits lay." Besides pursuing his athletic goals, he was also determined to get a university education, and he was admitted to HKBU through the University's Elite Athletes Admission Scheme.
But not everyone supported his decision at first. Some people were concerned about his career prospects, and there were those who were sceptical about his chances of success. "If you listen to the doubters all the time, you won't be able to focus on doing what you have to do," Chung-wang says. Not wanting to have any regrets when he gets older, he became one of a rare breed in Hong Kong: a full-time athlete and full-time student.
Balancing intensive training with a demanding class schedule wasn't easy, but Chung-wang persisted. "What I've learnt in my studies and in running is that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve unexpected results. You will eventually find a way that works for you, and it will make things easier," he says.
The past four years saw him racing in the Asian Games, winning medals in international meets and setting new records for Hong Kong. After competing in the Asian Games, he believed he could go further and he set his sights on the 2020 Olympics. Then COVID-19 struck.
For Chung-wang, coping with the various lockdowns during the pandemic included training on unshuttered tracks, and keeping himself in the best possible condition to compete. "All athletes face adversity in their lives, but you can change your mindset and overcome the difficulties gradually. Even though the Olympics were postponed, you have to be in top form all the time, so when the opportunity comes, you are ready to fight for it," he says.
No second step without the first
This year has been an important one for Chung-wang. Apart from taking part in the Olympics, he also graduated earlier this year. The will to strive for the best in sport also motivates him to do well in his academic studies, and he appreciates the opportunity to pursue his interests outside of the track. Reflecting on his time at HKBU, he says that student-athletes need to stop making excuses for themselves. "In sport, you always have to work towards a breakthrough. If you make excuses for yourself, you are actually setting a limit to how far you can go," he says, adding that being persistent is the key to accomplishing his goals and dreams.
He says, "To achieve your dreams, you have to take the first step." Indeed, had he never pressed on with his decision to turn pro, his life would be completely different. Although it takes time to change the sporting culture in Hong Kong, Chung-wang hopes that his personal journey will inspire youngsters who hope to be professional athletes, and lead to a more positive and open attitude in society towards sport.