When Maggie Leung Wing-hei was 14, she set a personal best time in the 100 metre sprint of 12.23 seconds. She was the fifth best in Hong Kong, and the youngest of the top five female sprinters of 2016.
But no sooner had Maggie been declared one of the most promising young runners in the city, than she hit a slump that almost let her to quit athletics altogether.
The Diocesan Girls’ School student was plagued by injuries throughout 2017, first straining her hamstring, and then rupturing her Achilles tendon. These persistent injuries brought her fledgling career to an abrupt halt.
She later learned that these injuries were the result of a bad training schedule, and that she had been putting too much strain on her muscles. During one training session, she was made to sprint 100 metres, 40 times in a row, without doing any proper injury prevention exercises.
“I was on the verge of breaking down and I was so mad at myself. At one point, I thought if I wanted to stop getting hurt, I might as well just stop doing the sport,” she recalled.
Thankfully, after a few months spent resting and doing recovery exercises, Maggie was back on her feet.
She knew it would take time to regain her speed, but she was desperate to set a new personal best after remaining at the same level for more than two years. She also wanted to prove to the world that her early success was not simply a flash in the pan . The 17-year-old got close in March, when she represented the city at the 3rd Asian Youth Athletics Championships held in Hong Kong. She finished in seventh place with a time of 12.33 seconds, just 0.1 seconds away from her record.
Still, Maggie was disappointed. She had been convinced that she was physically ready to smash her old record, especially after having won two gold medals in Girls’ Grade A 100 metre and 200 metre at the Interschool Athletics Competition earlier that month.
At her next competition, Maggie took a different approach. Instead of fixating on her time, she decided to focus solely on executing each stride perfectly.
This change in mindset worked: she finally achieved a new best time of 12.18 seconds at the All-China Athletics Grand Prix Series 2 in April, just two days after she turned 17.
“I have been running for almost eight years, but I never realised I could only perform well when I’m relaxed, calm, and clear-headed,” she explained. “The Grand Prix was truly a turning point where I learned more about myself as a sprinter.”
Once she had her groove back, the teen became unstoppable. In May, while competing at the All China Youth U18 Athletics Championships, she set yet another personal best, this time of 12.04 seconds. This raised her local junior ranking in the 100 metre event to No. 1, and No. 2 in the open ranking.
Part of Maggie’s winning strategy is to show her fearlessness at the start of each race by letting out a loud battle cry. She sees it as a good way to relieve stress and build momentum for the race ahead.
“I learned this trick from other runners during my first overseas competition,” she said. “It may sound silly, but sometimes my scream can scare off my opponents – I remember some of them did pull back a little,” she added with a laugh.
It’s taken three years of hard work, but Maggie has regained her standing in Hong Kong junior athletics, and has no plans to slow down now.
She has now set her sights on breaking the 100 metre and 200 metre records at next year’s interschool competition next year – which will also be her last. She also wants to get her fastest time in the 100 metre event down to 11.82 seconds, so that she can qualify for the biennial IAAF World U20 Championships, set to take place in July 2020.
And her ambitions don’t stop there; her ultimate goal is to be Hong Kong’s fastest woman of all time.
“I want to smash the national record first, then have my name up on the Asia ranking,” she said.