Olympian achievement

Olympian achievement

Hong Kong gymnast and fashion design graduate Angel Wong will be dressed for success this summer after qualifying for the London Games


Hong Kong Team gymnast Angel Wong Hiu-ying has qualified for the Olympics and wants to develop her own look.
Hong Kong Team gymnast Angel Wong Hiu-ying has qualified for the Olympics and wants to develop her own look.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Angel Wong Hiu-ying, the first women's gymnast from Hong Kong to qualify for the Olympic Games, will be hoping to make a fashion statement when she competes in London this summer.

For Wong, who became a full-time athlete after graduating with a degree in Fashion and Textiles from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2010, will be designing the leotard she wears in the competition. "I am searching for a manufacturer who is willing to accept my opinion on design," Wong, 24, says. "I want to use what I learned at university and do something special for my once-in-a-lifetime day."

As one of only two gymnasts to be representing Hong Kong in the individual event - along with Shek Wai-hung in the men's event - she is allowed to choose her own style of outfit and simply add the Hong Kong team badge.

Wong secured her place at the Olympics at this month's Visa International Gymnastics London Prepares Series in London - the last chance for gymnasts to qualify for the 2012 Games. She finished 59th out of the 96 competitors in the women's all-round competition, but because of how the qualification quota system works, this was enough to earn her one of the 32 places available for individual gymnasts.

Wong developed her love of gymnastics in Australia, where she spent the first nine years of her life, following her family's emigration from Hong Kong. In Melbourne, she started to learn gymnastics at a community centre when she was five and then she joined local clubs.

"Unlike in Hong Kong, there are many gymnastic clubs in any one region of Australia and we regularly held inter-club competitions," says Wong. She enjoyed the training and competitive environment in Melbourne and did not want to come back to Hong Kong.

However, at 10, she returned to her home city because of her father's work. She finished her primary school education and then went to Sha Tin College.

Yet Wong's gymnastics training in Melbourne helped her rapid progress into the Hong Kong team. "I really like the sport and in 1998 decided to apply for selection to the elite class for potential athletes, run by the Hong Kong Gymnastic Association," she says. "I was surprised when they enrolled me directly into the national team."

Wong, whose best event is the vault, has witnessed the team's ups and downs. In 2000, the sport was removed from the elite sports category and lost its financial and technical support from the Hong Kong Sports Institute.

Yet the secondary school student stayed on the team and enjoyed some historic moments with her teammates. Their continued efforts pushed the team back into the limelight and they were once again listed as an elite sport in 2011.

She has had some lucky breaks in her career, although at the time they did not seem that way. "When I was 18, I tried out for the Asian Games, but did not make the team," she says. "I was disappointed at the time, but now I'm grateful. I think that if I had gone, I might have seen that as the peak of my career and even quit afterwards. Not going saved me from early retirement."

She participated in the 2009 Universiade (the global student games) in Serbia, then the 2010 Asian Games, where she finished sixth in the vault.

She then deferred one term of her degree studies so that she could compete in the 2011 Universiade in Shenzhen, where she won bronze in the vault. "Only current students and those that have graduated in the past two years can participate in these games. My deferral gave me another chance to win a medal," she said.

Yet Wong has always dreamed of competing in the Olympics. "I first watched the sport during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and I dreamed that one day I would be able to perform in front of the crowd. But as I got older I thought I might have missed out on my goal. It is unbelievable my dream has come true at the age of 24."

Now Wong needs one more miracle. "My parents want to support me at the Games, but when my mum tried to get tickets after I qualified, she was told all the tickets were sold out. A year ago I never thought we would need them."



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