Endurance runners are known to have an impressive lung capacity that allows them to compete in long-distance races. There is a Cantonese phrase for athletes who are gifted with this unique quality - 'hei dol', which literally translates as “an airbag”, referring to the high volume of oxygen these runners can hold.
Dubbed the “airbag of Diocesan Boys’ School (DBS)” by the local media, Michael Tse Chun-yin is one of Hong Kong’s most promising long-distance runners. While he is known for his school-level success, the teenager hopes that one day he will emerge as the “airbag of Hong Kong and Asia”.
The 18-year-old currently holds three local junior men’s records in 10,000 metres, 10 kilometres and the half-marathon. He is a two-time winner of the Outstanding Athlete Award at the BOCHK Bauhinia Bowl Awards. Most recently, he became the champion of the boys’ Grade A individual event at the Interschool Cross Country Competition (Division One), held at Hong Kong Golf Club on October 28, where he led the DBS team to their eighth consecutive victory.
Speaking to Young Post about his recent victory, Michael believes it is important to look beyond the titles and prizes, and zero in on achieving a faster personal time in each race.
“In long-distance running, you are your own opponent. All you should think about is outdoing yourself and achieving a better time than before,” he said in a phone interview.
Michael only took up long-distance running four years ago, but thanks to his coach Chan Ka-wai, who is also an elite runner, he was able to realise his potential very quickly.
It also didn’t take long for Michael to bond with Chan, who is only a few years older than him. As Michael told Young Post, Chan always makes sure Michael understands the rationale behind his training programme, which has helped him to adapt to this physically and mentally taxing sport without much difficulty.
“My coach and I are really good friends; I can even say we are like brothers,” Michael said. “He always explains why we are doing certain programmes, instead of asking me to follow his orders blindly.”
Chan’s training methods brought out the best in Michael, and he began representing Hong Kong overseas in 2017. That same year, Michael decided to move to DBS, as the school offers resources to help students pursue sports and their studies at the same time – just what Michael needed to support his running career.
The Form Six student now trains 15 hours a week: he has one session before school starts at 8am, and another after school. Getting up at 5am every day may sound like a nightmare for most secondary students, but Michael is more than willing to make that sacrifice.
“My coach won’t scold me if I choose to skip my morning training, but I know if I don’t train, I won’t make any progress,” Michael said.
Although he is busy preparing for next year’s HKDSE, Michael has no plans to slow down. Instead of cutting back his training hours like most student athletes do in the run-up to the public exam, he is determined to keep up his training. He admitted that he is going through the most difficult period of his life, as he juggles school, revision and training. But he hopes once his study leave starts in February, his frantic schedule will ease off a little.
“It is really tough right now, sometimes I only get three to four hours of sleep. But I know I just have to hold on until study leave ... things should be more manageable by then,” he said.
Like every budding local athlete, Michael has set his sights on taking part in prestigious sports events such as the Asian Games and Olympic Games.
But while many of these athletes are looking at the option of skipping or delaying university to pursue a full-time career in their sport, Michael believes turning professional in his 20s wouldn’t be a wise move.
The teen athlete explains long-distance runners need to develop their stamina gradually, and they often reach the pinnacle of their career in their 30s.
“Becoming a full-time runner so soon would not help my career much; I may even get tired of the sport. Look at the world record holder, who achieved his best time in his 30s,” said Michael, referring to 34-year-old Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who became the first person in history to complete a full marathon in fewer than two hours last month.
With a long journey ahead of him, Michael hopes to encourage fellow endurance runners to break free of limits they impose on themselves, and dare to dream big.
“Don’t limit yourself, look into the future and think about what you want to achieve.”