Rare treat for sports fans

Rare treat for sports fans

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Clockwise from top: East Asian Games mascots Dony and Ami, Lin Dan, Annie Au, Guo Jingjing. Photos: K.Y. Cheng, Oliver Tsang, Sam Tsang

Mainland stars are the favourites but locals are likely to pick up some medals at the East Asian Games, writes Rebecca Tsui

The gold hunters are in town. Hong Kong's largest sporting extravaganza - the East Asian Games (EAG) - officially opens this Saturday. A few events start before then. This is a great opportunity for sports enthusiasts to see star athletes who will be in town for the gold hunt.

The first-ever multi-sport showpiece to be held in the city runs until December 13. A total of 2,300 athletes from the mainland, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Macau, Guam and Hong Kong will battle it out for 262 gold medals in 22 events.

Among the participants, the mainland has the strongest squad, featuring 19 Beijing Olympic gold medallists.

Diving queen Guo Jingjing has won more Olympic medals than any other female diver. You can see her in action from December 11 to 13. Badminton is on from December 9 to 13 and gives fans the chance to see ace player Lin Dan.

Also seeking gold will be Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang, the mainland's most commercially successful athlete. He impressed at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix and the National Games in Shandong held earlier this year. Liu - who made a dramatic last-minute withdrawal from the starting blocks at the Beijing Olympics - is set to thrill fans on December 11.

The mainland has a powerful female volleyball team, too, and they will be in action starting today.

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of Hong Kong's Olympic Committee, said he was not entirely thrilled about the Games. He was happy they were being held here. But he worried the champions would outclass their opponents so much the Games would seem like an exhibition rather than a competition.

"I'm more than happy to see such high-quality athletes attending the Games. On the other hand, I hope local athletes will win a few medals," Fok said.

Hong Kong has entered all 22 events. The city's major medal hopes lie with cycling veteran Wong Kam-po, snooker player Marco Fu Ka-chun, windsurfing trio Chan King-yin, Ho Chi-ho and Vicky Chan Wai-kei, squash stars Rebecca Chiu Wing-yin and Annie Au Wing-chi, and table tennis trio Li Ching, Ko Lai-cha and Cheung Yuk.

The Games' first gold medal will come from the BMX event, according to the competition schedule. Hong Kong's Steven Wong is one of the favourites.

The SAR's squash players will be taking part in all seven categories, including men's and women's individual, team and doubles, as well as mixed doubles. They should be able to win some medals. Au and Chiu, 2000 Asian Games gold medallists, are the first and second seeds in the women's individual event. If things go smoothly, they could meet in the final on Sunday.

Tony Choi Yuk-kwan, head coach of the Hong Kong squash team, said: "As home favourites, our squad is under great pressure. I'll be happy if they can get four gold medals. A clean sweep would be a huge bonus."

Although most EAG tickets have been sold out, you can support the city's athletes in many ways. Apart from watching live TV broadcasts, you can also go to the sports venues, such as Ma On Shan for cycling and Stanley Main Beach for windsurfing, to cheer on our athletes.

For events venues and time schedule, visit www.2009eastasiangames.hk

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