PATHWAY TO SUCCESS
Fencing in the city stretches back decades, to when Hong Kong was a British colony, with its amateur fencing association founded in 1949.
The city had occasional success in the early 2000s, but it was the 2010 Asian Games, where Hong Kong fencers won seven medals, that first established them as a regional powerhouse.
Local organisers made efforts to popularise the sport, bringing classes to schools and community hubs in the past two decades – that is where Cheung had his first taste of fencing.
Fencers also benefited from a reform to Hong Kong’s pipeline for discovering and training talent which allowed Cheung to devote himself to the sport full-time when he was 17 with his parents’ blessing.
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.
He had a warning for Hong Kong’s star man, who has slipped to seventh in the men’s foil world rankings.
“When you’re Olympic champion it’s very hard because everybody has an eye on you and everybody’s fighting hard against you,” Koenig said.
He said he told Cheung: “You have to understand that many people fight all their life to reach the goal you’ve already reached.”
“Okay, do you think you reached the maximum level and you want to stop here? Or are you still motivated for more?” Koenig says he told Cheung.
“He told me, ‘No, I really want to put my name in the history of fencing.'”