Updated: 01/31/2014 21:06 | By Agence France-Presse

Skater is Hong Kong's first male Winter Olympian

Speed skater Barton Lui will make history when he becomes the first man to compete for sub-tropical Hong Kong at the Winter Olympics, despite being forced to hone his skills on rinks in the city's crowded shopping malls.


Skater is Hong Kong's first male Winter Olympian

Barton Lui (in red) competes in the men's 1000m at the ISU World Cup Short Track event in Shanghai on December 9, 2011. AFP Photo/Peter Parks

Temperatures rarely drop below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) in the southern Chinese territory, even in the depths of winter, and humidity regularly hits 80 percent, but the shy 20-year-old's commitment to the sport saw him seek out ice in the few places it exists.

While other teens hit the air-conditioned malls to shop or watch movies, the young Lui headed to the handful boasting their own ice rinks, the only places he could train as Hong Kong has no facilities of international standard.

"To be able to skate on the ice in Hong Kong is quite special. It was quite fun, it was fast and cool," he told AFP, although the conditions were hardly ideal.

"You won't find a big ice rink at shopping malls. For a sport that requires speed, it's hard to practise," said Lui, forced to jostle with leisure skaters. 

The lack of proper crash barriers at public rinks was also an injury risk, he said, and many of his peers gave up on the sport.

"Some of my friends competed for a long time, but the circumstances didn't support them to continue," Lui said. "But I know I have to survive against adversity."

Lui -- whose grit and determination shone through from an early age -- took up speed skating when he was just 10 years old after his coach Lu Shuo spotted his skills as a young competitive rollerblader.

"His coach thought he had potential because when he fell, he would not cry -- he would climb back up and move on," his mother, Catherine Lui, who regularly accompanies him on his travels, told AFP.

'A milestone in my life'

Lui's parents encouraged him to take up sport as they were keen for him to be active as opposed to sitting at home playing computer games.

After Lu took him on, he spent six years skating in his spare time, fitting in his training around his studies before leaving school to go full-time aged 16, enabling him to train on bigger rinks abroad.

He became a member of Hong Kong's official skating team in 2008 and now trains in mainland China and Seoul, where the facilities are better.

Now all Lui's hard work has paid off as he travels for next month's Winter Games after qualifying through the Short Track Speed Skating World Cup as Hong Kong's only competitor in Sochi.

Hong Kong first fielded athletes at the Winter Olympics in 2002 at Salt Lake City, with Cordia Tsoi and Christy Ren competing in short track speed skating, while Han Yueshuang was the only representative at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.

Lui will compete in the 1,500-metre short track event and although he is not a medal hope, he aims to beat his personal best of 2 minutes 15 seconds.

"Going to the Olympics is an important milestone in (my) life," said Lui. "I am excited -- the first male athlete from Hong Kong to participate. I want to break my personal records." 

He joins a contingent of competitors from countries where winter never really happens, including Tongan luger Bruno Banani and Bermuda's cross-country skier Tucker Murphy.

Lui hopes his efforts will inspire others in Hong Kong, but said the city must improve its facilities.

"I hope my participation will bring the sport to kids and students -- ice sports are fun," he said. "It would be good to have more venues so people can easily try it out.

"In Hong Kong, if there is a kid wanting to practise to reach a good level but the (standard of the) rink doesn't support that, many will give up."

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