Hong Kong isn't the first country people think of when they think of the Olympic Games. Hong Kong isn’t even its own country. But this hasn’t stopped our city from participating in almost every summer Olympics in the past six decades. (Photo to the right is from the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City)
Even as a British colony Hong Kong competed independently, and this condition has continued, though the official team name is now ‘Hong Kong, China’. Hong Kong’s Olympic debut was in Helsinki in 1952, which included competitors from 69 other countries.
That year Kin Man Cheung, Francisco Xavier Monteiro, Cynthia Eager and Irene Anita Kwok Kam Ngor represented the city in multiple swimming events. Hong Kong has taken part in every subsequent summer Olympics except for those held in Moscow in 1980.
Time has seen HK’s best athletes contend in a variety of Olympic events; in 1964 Hong Kong had four athletes in Athletics, two Boxers, and four Cyclists. In 1976 seven athletes competed in Canoeing, six in Cycling and five in Fencing.
Olympic torch in HK circa 1964
This year Hong Kong has 42 athletes competing in 13 different sports, including Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Judo, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis and Weightlifting.
We haven’t won any medals this year just yet (editor’s note: August 2, 11:50 AM) but Hong Kong has won medals in the past. Two to be exact (editor’s note: well… three really because we won the silver for Men’s Doubles Table Tennis).
Hong Kong won its first Olympic medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Cheung Chau native Lee Lai Shan placed first in the women's Mistral boardsailing class, bringing home the gold and inspiring athletes across the region and around the world. "I didn't win this medal for myself," she famously told reporters, "it is for all Hong Kong."
Popularly referred to as ‘San San,’ media outlets have christened Lee a ‘real Hong Kong woman’, and even used her success as a metaphor for Hong Kong on the world stage. She played an unexpected and indirect role in easing the ’97 transition too, as fans from both countries were excited to support her.
But at the end of the day HK’s modest golden girl simply considers herself a windsurfer—an athlete (and mother of two). Needless to say, San San set the bar for Hong Kong’s athletes as high as it can get.
In Athens in 2004 Hong Kong won the silver medal for Men’s Doubles Table Tennis. Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching were defeated by a pairing from China in the finals.
Their combined accomplishment was slightly overshadowed by the political implications of achieving the silver medal, as this was the first Olympic medal awarded to Hong Kong since the handover.
It was, nevertheless, a great feat and the medal ceremony where the Hong Kong and China flags were raised simultaneously was a proud moment across the nation.
The Olympics are celebrated as a way to bring the world closer together through the common cause of athletic achievement, and some see this year’s events as a chance for HK and China to look beyond the two system’s recent differences.
"The performance of the Hong Kong team will be something everyone can support. We can cheer our team's progress with one voice and remind ourselves that, despite our political differences, we are all Hong Kong people,” Former Secretary for Home Affairs Ho Chi-Ping said.
“The Olympics also provides a welcome reminder of our unique ‘One Country, Two Systems’ political structure,” Ho continued, “although we are part of China, our status as a special administrative region allows our team to compete on an equal footing with the teams of every other country. Even our team's name – ‘Hong Kong, China’ – reinforces the idea of ‘One Country, Two Systems’; we are a territory that is both an integral part of China, yet with its own separate entity.
Geopolitics aside, GeoExpat is rooting for our Hong Kong athletes whether they win medals or not. Competing against the world’s best is more than enough to make us proud.