Not every school athlete goes on to become an international sports superstar, but Salom Yiu Kam-shing did. The Hong Kong rugby player, who was on the team that won gold in the 2018 Asian Games in August, graduated from Fung Kai Liu Man Shek Tong Secondary School in 2008. Last Wednesday, Yiu returned to his alma mater to speak to students about being part of the first-ever Hong Kong team to win a rugby sevens gold medal in the Games.
While there, Yiu spoke to his eager audience about how much winning gold meant to him and the rest of the team.
“We lost to Japan in the finals of the last two Asian Games,” the 30-year-old recalled. “I was crushed. I kept asking myself why all my hard work had not paid off.” Yiu was not allowed to stew in his own pessimism – his team told him to learn from the defeats and to work on improving for the next Games.
The team’s hard work paid off this year in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. The Hong Kong rugby sevens team, once again facing off against Japan in the finals, crushed their opponents in a match that ended 14-0.
At his old school, Yiu invited students to take a closer look at his hard-earned medal, and reminded them of the importance of setting themselves goals for the short- and long-term.
“Goals push you to make progress,” he said as they examined the golden proof of his success. “They help you take small steps towards success.”
It was thanks to his old school that Yiu discovered his passion and talent for rugby. When he was 18, he recalled, the school took him to watch the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.
“It was the first time I had ever visited the Hong Kong Stadium; I felt like a country bumpkin,” Yiu laughed. One of the things he had noticed while there was that there were very few Chinese players on the Hong Kong team. This, along with his confidence that he would excel in this sport, made him determined to become part of the national team.
“I thought, as I watched the game, that rugby seemed an easy sport to master. You just have to run around with the ball and dodge your opponents,” he said. “It didn’t seem to require a lot of technique. I told myself that, within the next two years, I would make the Hong Kong team as well.”
Yiu’s mentor, Brian Chan Ka-lun, played an important role in helping the rugby star get to where he is now. Chan, who had been his PE teacher at the time and still works there now, helped persuade Yiu’s mum to agree to let him play on the national team. Yiu’s mum had had her doubts, as she had been worried about the amount of injuries that rugby often causes its players.
Chan, who has watched Yiu grow from a budding student athlete to a celebrated sports icon playing at an international level, said he sees the rugby player as more than just a friend and former student.
“He is like a son to me,” he said. “I’m very proud of the achievements he has made over the years.”
The line-up of the current Hong Kong rugby sevens national team has more Chinese players than when Yiu first watched them play, but the sport still remains more popular in international schools than local ones. Yiu said he wants to see more local students turn to the sport – and he believes the key to that is to change the way Hong Kong parents view rugby.
“Young rugby players in Hong Kong need more support from their parents,” he said. “I’ve seen junior team members drop out of the sport because their parents didn’t approve of the training.” It is, he said, one of the reasons why the senior national team works so hard to achieve such good results – to show young people and their parents that there is a bright future for athletes who play rugby.
Holding his golden medal in one hand, Yiu told the students that this is not the end of the road for him. He wants to hold more gold medals – and he wants the next one to come from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic.
“I wasn’t sure, before this year’s Asian Games, whether I could still be considered in my prime because of my age,” he admitted. “But, after winning this gold, I feel more determined than ever to play for Hong Kong at the 2020 Olympics.”