On the right track to superstardom

On the right track to superstardom

Olympic medallist Sarah Lee beat homesickness to become a cycling world-beater


Lee headed to victory in Belarus last month.
Lee headed to victory in Belarus last month.
Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP
Ever since she brought home a bronze medal from last summer's Olympic Games in London, track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze seems to be unstoppable.

After her Olympic success, Lee claimed sprint gold at October's World Cup first leg in Colombia, and then two bronze medals - one in the keirin, in November's second leg in Scotland, and the other in the sprint in January's final leg in Mexico. She finished as the overall champion in both events.

And she didn't stop there. At February's World Championships in Belarus, she won the 500-metre time-trial gold and a bronze in the sprint. This month, she won two more gold medals, in the 500m time trial and keirin, at the Asian Championships in India.

So it was no surprise that she won the prestigious Best of the Best Sports Stars Award at last week's "Oscars" of Hong Kong sport.

Yet Lee never thought she'd reach such heights. "I didn't have winning an Olympic medal as a goal when I started cycling," Lee, 25, says. "I believed it would sound like boasting if I did. Instead, I just raised my target from time to time.

"As I improved, first I planned to win the Asian Championships and Asian Games. Then, after winning at both these competitions, I set targets at the World Championships and Olympics. I always think things have to be done step by step."

Right from the start Lee showed the drive and desire to be a winner. She began cycling while a Form Three student at Leung Shek Chee College, in Kwun Tong. She overcame mild anaemia, a medical condition affecting the blood, to become a top athlete.

After taking her HKCEE in 2004, she became a full-time professional cyclist. But the road to success has not been easy. She trains in Guangzhou and Kunming, in Yunnan province, meaning she spends most of the year away from her family.

Even at last week's awards ceremony, Lee had little time to chat with her mother and elder sister, Vivien, as she was caught in a whirlwind of picture-taking and autograph-signing with her fans.

Sarah Lee (centre) celebrates winning the Best of the Best award with her sister, Vivien (left), and her mother. Kevin Kung/SCMP

Hong Kong's cycling team will be able to train closer to home when the Tseung Kwan O Indoor Velodrome opens this year. For now, she copes with homesickness while competing abroad by imagining her family cheering her on.

"When I go on the track in major tournaments, I always have a feeling that my loved ones are watching me in action through the live broadcast. We're far apart, but there is a connection between us somehow."

She is looking forward to this year's National Games, in Shenyang, in Liaoning province, where she hopes to win medals in the keirin and sprint events.

"I use the pressure like a fuel for competing," she says. "I'm used to the repetitive training each day. I like this systematic lifestyle and have learned how to relax between the intense races to stay in top form."

Despite her success, she has never forgotten where she started her career as a cyclist. She has gone back to Leung Shek Chee College to encourage students to follow their dreams. "I try to use my personal experience to influence the younger generation," she says. "I told them that everyone has a dream and we should all attempt to realise it. I emphasised to them that we should not let ourselves regret something by failing to try it at all."



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