Running for Hong Kong

Running for Hong Kong

A young South African athlete has adjusted to the city's tracks, but is still struggling with the language

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Photo: Kevin Kung
Steven Ing is just 17 but already has a distinguished record as a long-distance runner. He broke the Hong Kong Age Group Records both in 1,500m and 5,000m.

But what makes him truly stand out is his upbeat, go-for-it attitude. The Year 12 student from Australian International School has won numerous inter-school, local and overseas tournaments. His successes have been covered repeatedly by local newspapers, but he understood none of it: he can't read Chinese.

He's proudly kept all the newspaper clippings, though.

Steven came from South Africa and a mixed cultural background. His dad is from South Africa and his mum is from Argentina. They moved to Hong Kong with Steven because his dad now works here. "I wasn't a serious runner before, but in Hong Kong I had some systematic training and my form improved over time," he notes.

Steven captured wider attention - and his first Jing Ying title - in 2009 at the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Cross Country Tournament.

He finished second in the same tournament last year. Steven now tops the junior ranking in 1,500m and 5,000m events in Hong Kong. "My personal best is 4 minutes and 5 seconds in the 1,500m race," he said. "I want to break the Hong Kong Junior Record by [clocking less than] 4 minutes."

His success as an athlete has made him popular in school. "Many of my schoolmates come to cheer me on during races. I am happy when they scream and shout out my name," he says.

He has not been equally successful in all areas of effort. "I tried hard to learn Cantonese, but it's so difficult for me," Steven says. "I only know some simple words."

Meanwhile, he's forgotten much of the Spanish he learned back in South Africa. But he's slowly picking up Putonghua. "I can now recognise the four Chinese characters that stand for 'athletics competition' on banners."

His teammates have also been very helpful, he says. "Sometimes they test my Putonghua and I usually have no problems with that."

In return, he helps his teammates and competitors at Hong Kong Team and inter-school events with their English.

"I speak rather slowly [to them]," he explains. "At first I was afraid that I might not be able to communicate with other runners. But actually they can all understand what I say as they speak English well."

Steven says his parents follow his athletic career closely and are very supportive.

"They always encourage and congratulate me when I do well. But they also tell me if I perform poorly."

He enjoyed watching the football World Cup last year in his homeland.

"I like football, but I can't play it much because I don't want to be injured. I just watch more games instead."

At the World Cup he got tickets for the Argentina-Germany and Portugal-Spain games. "My mum and I were very embarrassed when Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany. They played very poorly. I was expecting them to be in the final," he says.

Clearly, the young runner's heart is in several places at the same time: South Africa, Argentina and Hong Kong. His teammates, he says, have often asked him about his plans: whether he wanted to stay or return to Africa. When Steven and his younger sister have completed secondary school, the family will move back to South Africa. "I may forget the language I've learned here, but I will never forget about running for Hong Kong," Steven says.

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