For the moment, concerns about new Covid infections seemed to be forgotten. Hong Kong’s government had no objection to public viewing in many of the city’s shopping malls on Monday, as thousands of people, some of them standing tightly together, watched the first Olympic victory by one of its athletes ever since the territory was handed over by the UK to the People’s Republic of China. Just a few weeks ago, Covid was stated as the official reason why citizens were forbidden to collectively remember the Tiananmen Square massacre.
It is no surprise that the authorities turned a blind eye this time. After two grueling years that have many left dead or injured, an unprecedented political purge and the gutting of a democratic society, the triumph march of 24-year-old foil fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long toward the gold medal finally provided the battered metropolis on the Pearl River with a much-needed moment of unity, pride and joy. For the government, Cheung’s sensational success embodies the performance of the new authoritarian Hong Kong that it wants to market to its people as a model for the future.
Born in the year of the return of Hong Kong
Whether the athlete himself approves of the instrumentalization of his Olympic victory will possibly remain his secret, nor will he be able to change its symbolism. Cheung was born in 1997, just a few weeks before the People’s Republic of China reclaimed sovereignty over the Special Administrative Region. The first and, up until now, last time a Hong Kong athlete won gold at the Olympics was by surfer Lee Lai-shan in Atlanta in 1996. Back then, the British national anthem “God save the Queen” was still played during the medal ceremony. This time, the Chinese “March of the Volunteers” anthem accompanied the hoisting of the national flag.
That Cheung would one day win the most important competition in his discipline could not be expected. His decision to pursue a professional career in sports, on the other hand, came less of a surprise. His parents were already competitive athletes who played basketball in Hong Kong and China. In love, he also sought an equal and was engaged in a relationship with Hong Kong track cyclist Vivian Ma Wing-yu for several years. The two were a popular subject of the Hong Kong tabloid press until they separated earlier this year. With 1.93 meters, Cheung stands tall and with his stylish K-pop haircut is very popular with women. His following suddenly exploded by many thousands of followers on social media after his victory in Tokyo.
He picked up fencing at the age of ten and specialized in the foil, where, unlike the épée, only the torso of the opponent is counted as a hit area. It quickly became apparent that the young boy had talent and sufficient ambition to take on the best of the world. Introverted and focused, he went his way, his youth coaches recalled. It was a path that led him to victory at the Asian Games as a teenager six years ago and at the Rio Olympics in 2016. In Brazil, he was still bested by the elite, the very same elite that now bows their heads in recognition. grz