Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long has made history for the city by clinching a gold medal at the men’s foil individual event at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The 24-year-old bagged the city’s first Olympic gold medal since 1996 on Monday, after a beating 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist Daniele Garozzo of Italy by 15-11.
Cheung saw a slow start in the final when he let the Italian score four points in a row, putting him at a deficit of 1-4.
But the Hong Kong foilist came back from behind and established a slender one-point lead of 6-5. Garozzo took a brief medical break after he appeared to have injured his thigh.
Following the pause, Cheung widened his winning margin to 10-5, but his opponent took four consecutive points and left him hanging on a narrow lead of 10-9.
Cheung managed to make a breakthrough and edged towards victory, leading 13-9. Although the Italian sought to turn the bout around by taking three points and closed the gap to 13-11, Cheung did not let the Olympic title slip away. Garozzo’s dream of a second Olympic gold was dashed as Cheung finished the bout with a strong attack, seizing the gold medal with a score of 15-11.
‘Don’t give up’
In a post-match interview, Cheung said winning the Olympic gold medal was “totally unbelievable.” He said he had experienced a period of ups and downs in his career recently and all he had in mind for the individual event was to fence his first match well.
“I thought to myself – everyone was either was an Olympic champion or a world champion, and I was nobody. That helped me relax a bit,” he said.
Cheung said that, when he dropped out of the top 16 in the international ranks, he once questioned whether he deserved to be among the best fencers in the world. But he managed to get back on his feet after seeking advice from his coach Greg Koenig: “Everyone needs to persist, don’t give up easily.”
The fencer said he wanted to thank his family the most, saying they were very considerate when he had a bad temper. He added that he would gift his shiny souvenir from the Olympics to his father, who just celebrated his birthday.
“It proves that we are not only able to get medals in Asia only, we can also do what we want to in the world,” he said.
Cheung’s gold means he will receive HK$5 million as prize money from the Athlete Incentive Awards Scheme. The medal also places Hong Kong in 16th place on the Tokyo Olympics medal board.
Road to gold
Earlier on Monday, Cheung knocked out the reigning world number one foilist Alessio Foconi of Italy in a landslide victory of 15-3 to make the top eight.
Then, in a dramatic quarterfinal match against Russian fencer Kirill Borodachev, the Hongkonger snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring six points in a row, winning the bout in 15-14.
He then parried away Alexander Choupenitch of the Czech Republic, 15-10, to become the very first Hong Kong fencer to step on the Olympic podium.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she followed the live TV broadcast closely: “We are thrilled that with his outstanding skills and calmness as well as perseverance in adversity during the competition, he has succeeded in making history for Hong Kong. His excellent result is testimony to the capability of Hong Kong athletes and makes all Hong Kong people proud.
Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui passed his on congratulations in a press release: “Cheung Ka-long has fully met the challenges to display his skills and maintained a high level of concentration during the competition. It is a great honour to win the medal. I hope he will reach new heights in future.”
Two other Hong Kong representatives, Ryan Choi and Cheung Siu-lun, finished in the top 16 and the top 64, respectively. They will team up with Edgar Cheung and reserve fencer Lawrence Ng to compete in the men’s foil team event on Sunday.
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