There are plenty of young, budding athletes in Hong Kong, despite the city being relatively small. It may not have world-class training venues for every sport, but athletes are willing to go the extra mile to turn their dreams into reality.
One of those dedicated students is rhythmic gymnast Victoria Lo Wing-lam, who decided to spend time in the home country of the first ever gymnastics world champion – Russia – to learn from the best.
The 13-year-old started doing rhythmic gymnastics in 2014 and was soon seen as a star in the making. Her mentor Jenny Yeung, who is a recognised judge of the sport, knew she had found a gem when she saw Victoria’s natural flexibility and slender build, which are considered crucial qualities of gymnasts.
The rhythmic gymnastics prodigy successfully made her way to the Hong Kong junior national team in 2016, but she soon realised that her career wouldn’t be able to go far without a proper practice venue.
“At the beginning, I trained in a dancing room in a public sports centre, which had a very low ceiling,” Victoria told Young Post. “With such a low ceiling, I couldn’t practise my high throws”.
Even at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, she did not get a venue suited to her particular needs. She had to use the Wushu hall, which was a significant upgrade, but the ceiling was still not high enough – she needs at least 15 metres’ clearance.
Although the Sports Institute has been planning to build a new gymnastics training centre for gymnasts, Victoria knew her dream of becoming an Olympian could not wait.
In 2017, with the encouragement of her current national team coach He Rui, the teenager made an unprecedented move to become the first Hong Kong rhythmic gymnast to spend some of the year training in Russia.
“I wasn’t too nervous about my first training session in Russia; the coach and gymnasts there were very friendly,” Victoria recalled.
“When I had trouble understanding them, I simply used Google Translate!”
As well as having a standardised venue, what Victoria likes most about training in Russia is having ballet sessions to improve her dance skills.
Rhythmic gymnastics is more than a sport; it requires athletes to perform a routine that showcases their flexibility, coordination and rhythm as they move their body using different apparatus, such as clubs, ribbon, rope, hoop or a ball in their hands, in time to music. Some people call the sport “ballet on the mat”, as the turns gymnasts do are similar to ballet moves.
“I won’t say ballet classes are necessary for rhythmic gymnasts, but they help us a lot to perfect our moves and make them look elegant,” said Victoria.
To accommodate her local and overseas training schedule – she spends most school holidays in Russia – Victoria transferred from a local school to Sha Tin College in 2016, because it could provide a more flexible class time table.
“So far, I haven't had much difficulty in balancing my training and studies,” she said.
“In fact, my academic results improved a lot after I started doing the sport, because I became more motivated to finish my homework before training.”
The Year Nine student’s hard work has paid off, as she has made history for Hong Kong in multiple overseas competitions this year.
In June, she finished in the top eight in the ribbon and rope events at the Rhythmic Gymnastics AGU Junior Asian Championships 2019 in Thailand. She was in with a chance to win medals for the city, but was forced to withdraw from the competition after falling ill. Still, it was the best result any local rhythmic gymnast had achieved so far in that competition.
Two months later, at the 2nd National Youth Games in Shanxi, Victoria came in fourth place in ribbon and eighth place in clubs. Although she had hoped to win a medal at the event, she knew she already did a commendable job as one of the youngest contestants in the her age group.
“I was so proud to be able to represent Hong Kong. The Chinese team was really strong, so I was still happy about my fourth-place finish,” Victoria said.
After making several breakthroughs this year, Victoria wants to take part in the Olympic Games in 2024, and become a leading gymnast in the world. But above all, she hopes Hong Kong will eventually give rhythmic gymnasts a proper place to train.
“Training in Russia is great, but it is also very expensive. With little sponsorship from the team, my family has already spent so much on my training,” Victoria said.
“The sport is becoming more and more popular in Hong Kong, so in the long run, it would be best to have our own training centre to develop more talented rhythmic gymnasts.”