Blades and bauhinias

Blades and bauhinias

A roller skater aged seven, Barton Lui switched to ice and is HK's first male Winter Olympian


Barton Lui, 20, competes at the International Skating Union World Championships in Shanghai.
Barton Lui, 20, competes at the International Skating Union World Championships in Shanghai.
Photo: Hong Kong Skating Union

If an athlete is Hong Kong's flag bearer in the Winter Olympics' opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia, he'll be easy to find.

Short-track speedskater Barton Lui Pan-to is the only athlete on the Hong Kong delegation's list on the Games' official website. The list will be finalised at the end of the month. The opening ceremony is set for February 7, with the closing ceremony on February 23.

Lui, 20, from a local family in Sai Wan Ho, is about to make history as the first man from Hong Kong to qualify for a Winter Olympics. (Two women represented the city in 2002 at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the US, and another at both the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, and in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada - all in short-track.) He's eager but trying to be cautious in case another member of the delegation is chosen to wave the bauhinia flag.

"I've had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to bear the Hong Kong flag and enter the venue for the opening ceremony at the Games," Lui told Young Post.

"I think it's a glorious duty, as well as a great responsibility. If I do get the duty, I will be very proud and thrilled."

Because Hong Kong has no ice rink of international standard, Lui has been training for the past two years in South Korea. He wakes up at 5am every day and goes for a 90-minute session before breakfast. Then it's three to four more hours of training in the afternoon.

It's paid off, though: Lui holds the Hong Kong records in all three Olympic distances - 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres. It was in the 1,500 metres that he qualified for Sochi. He had a career-best time of two minutes, 15.111 seconds in Turin, finishing 26th; and 2:27.969 in Kolumna, Russia, to finish 43rd. Then he had to wait for others to skate to find out their times.

Hong Kong team coach Lu Shuo had done the calculations to find out what times Lui's rivals needed to push his combined ranking lower than 36th - the cut-off mark.

"I couldn't sleep that night," Lui said. "I was so excited. I would like to thank my family. My parents and grandparents showed full understanding when I suspended my studies to chase my dream. I'm glad I made the right choice."

The long road to Sochi actually started when Lui was a roller-skating seven-year-old. He switched to short-track speedskating on ice at age 10 and moved to Vancouver in 2006 to train. He joined the Hong Kong team in 2008 and went to Changchun, Jilin, to train with the team full time.

His preparation for Sochi, he said, "began in 2010 with a year-long stay in Changchun, followed by another year of training with Heilongjiang's provincial team in Harbin". While in Changshun, he met South Korean coach Kim Sung-tae, and that led to the move to train with the team at Korea National Sports University, where he is now.

Of course, all of this needs funding. Lui gets some from the Hong Kong Skating Union to go to major tournaments. He has to pay his own rent and other living expenses - which amount to HK$14,000 a month.

He gets help with an Elite Training Grant from the Hong Kong Sports Institute, which also lists him as a scholarship athlete. Also, "When I get the Olympic preparation fund [HK$150,000] to cover my overseas training expenses from the Home Affairs Bureau, I'll feel great," he said.

After Sochi, it's back to school in Vancouver. As Lui sees no successor on the horizon, he says he would be more than happy to start training for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea - if the city wants him.


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