HONG KONG — Hong Kong is one of the smaller Asian Games teams by population, but when it comes to fencing the city is a regional heavyweight with ambitious medal hopes.
Edgar Cheung won gold at the Covid-delayed Tokyo Games two years ago — Hong Kong’s first Olympic fencing title and first Olympic gold in any sport in a quarter of a century.
It turned Cheung into a celebrity overnight and prompted parents across the Chinese territory of 7.5 million people to rush and sign their children up for fencing classes.
The city will have 24 fencers, 12 women and 12 men, at the Games.
Another gold-medal contender is 29-year-old Vivian Kong, who is ranked number two in the world in women’s epee.
There is also Ryan Choi, who along with Cheung was part of the Hong Kong team that won bronze in the men’s team foil at the world championships in July.
Cheung said the Hong Kong team have “improved greatly” since the 2018 Games in Jakarta.
The left-hander, who has recovered from a recent wrist injury, told AFP he wanted to “prove to our competitors they need to beware of us”.
Cheung’s final bout at the Tokyo Olympics drew hundreds of fans who crowded into a Hong Kong mall to watch the live broadcast, popping champagne corks after he emerged victorious.
Days later, then-city leader Carrie Lam announced more funding for elite Hong Kong athletes, including an expansion to the fencing hall at the institute where Cheung trains.
Fencing schools reported a spike in applications, although observers say interest has since tapered off somewhat.
WARNING FOR STAR MAN
Gregory Koenig, who previously coached in his native France and also Taiwan, began working with Hong Kong’s fencers five years ago and has developed a close relationship with Cheung.