Interview: How YouTube meditation videos helped Hong Kong’s Edgar Cheung become Olympic fencing champion
Hong Kong men’s foil Edgar Cheung Ka-long – who became Olympic champion in Tokyo on Monday, ending a 25-year gold medal shortage – credits meditation for the feat that made him a household name.
Devout crowds in Hong Kong hailed the 24-year-old as a ‘god of fencing’ and marveled at his ability to stand steadfast in tough times, especially during an exciting quarter-final which almost dashed Cheung’s dreams of an Olympic podium.
In an interview with HKFP two days after his historic victory, the Olympic hero revealed that it was his practice of mindfulness meditation – using YouTube videos – that had helped him regain his composure at times. criticism of his struggles.
The habit of nighttime meditation that Cheung practices in his bed began just six months ago, as he struggled to find his feet after leaving the world top 16 for the first time in nearly six years. .
Cheung, who ranks 19th internationally, said he was ready to âtry anythingâ at the time to save his fencing career. As he pressed reading a five-minute Cantonese meditation guide titled âRelieve Anxiety, Believe in the Future,â he closed his eyes and immersed himself in a distraction-free space from his phone. .
âI actually just follow guided meditation clips on YouTube and try not to think about anything. It clears my mind and makes me feel more at peace, âCheung said Wednesday.
This state of mind was instrumental when Cheung lost five points to Kirill Borodachev of the Russian Olympic Committee in the quarter-finals. The Hong Konger made an incredible comeback and took the win with a score of 15-14 to move into the top four.
By this point, Cheung had already achieved what no other Hong Kong fencer had done. But he didn’t stop there – he beat Czech Alexander Choupenitch and 2016 Olympic champion Daniele Garozzo to clinch long-awaited gold for the city.
Although it has been more than 48 hours since he was crowned champion, the gold medalist told HKFP he is still in a state of disbelief. âActually, I still don’t know what’s going on. It still feels like a dreamâ¦ it was a day of miracles.
As Cheung settled into his new world title, he became the man of the hour as the Hong Kongers celebrated the victory. The men’s individual foil gold medal match drew hundreds of people to a big screen TV at the APM Kwun Tong Mall to support the home favorite, with numerous signs reading “Support the Team of Hong Kong “.
The Hong Kong Sports Institute’s fencing hall was also filled with euphoria on Monday, as members of Cheung’s team jumped up and down and screamed as the Olympian made history. The left-hander consolidated his position as a role model for the city’s budding fencers.
The number of followers Cheung had on Instagram has seen an explosive increase from around 45,000 to over 347,000, and it continues. His inbox was also flooded with more than 10,000 congratulatory messages, said the fencer.
Cheung said he was very grateful for the immense support shown by people at home, saying watching videos of the cheering crowd gave him goosebumps. The distinction was more than just personal validation, he said.
âIt can let people know that we Hong Kong people can do it too. “
This echoed his remarks when he was interviewed by former windsurfer Lee Lai-shan after his victory. Lee, who won Hong Kong’s first Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996, told Cheung she waited over twenty years for someone to fill her shoes as a gold medalist Olympic.
The fencer responded by saying he was “not even born yet” when Lee claimed victory: “[People should not] thinks Hong Kong is just a small city and it is difficult to compete with countries. As long as you do your best, you can still do it: don’t give up. ”
Hong Kong residents have also shown great interest in Cheung’s prize money, which is estimated to be at least HK $ 7.5 million, in addition to some lifetime privileges such as free MTR rides and wings of free chicken.
When asked how he plans to spend the cash incentive, Cheung said he hadn’t thought about it yet, âI’d better get ready for the. [team] competition first and I’ll think about it later.
The men’s individual foil champion added that he had a tradition of buying cups when competing abroad in remembrance of his family, saying he felt like he was bringing home “trophies” . For his trip to Tokyo this time, however, Cheung’s family would certainly be happy to find themselves receiving a more unusual and brilliant memory.
From boy to man
Cheung – who is 1.93 meters tall and is the son of two basketball players – was supposed to follow in his parents’ footsteps. But as fate would have it, his on-the-job training was cut short at the age of 10 after classes were canceled. Cheung’s father then suggested that his son take a sword and try out fencing – which was still a niche sport at the time.
The long-limbed fencer made a name for himself in 2014 when he won four gold medals at the Asian Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships. In 2016, he was crowned Asian champion – this time at the senior level – at the age of 18. That same year, Cheung made his Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro and finished in the top 16.
He continued to expand his success on the world stage, winning the junior men’s foil event at the 2017 World Junior and Cadet Fencing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Despite his youth, the Hong Kong was already one of the 16 best shooters in the world.
Cheung managed to maintain his ranking for the following seasons, until 2020/2021. His loss was a blow to the elite fencer.
“I was doubting myself – was that the best I could ever do? Couldn’t I go further? Cheung called back.
But French coach Greg Koenig, who formed the Chinese Taipei squad before coming to Hong Kong in late 2018, taught Cheung to relax and constantly gave him inspiration to experiment with new techniques on the track.
“I used to be very stubborn, but now after long discussions with my coach, things are better,” he said.
Koenig led the Hong Kong men’s foil team to a historic silver medal at a World Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia in May 2019. This paved the way for the successful qualification of the team for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Frenchman had described Cheung’s march to Olympic glory as transforming the 24-year-old from “a boy” to “a man”. He also praised the shooter for his persistence and hard work.
âKa-long made history today and I couldn’t be prouderâ¦â Koenig wrote on Instagram Tuesday.
Besides Koenig, Cheung said another coach, Maurizio Zomparelli, had helped him develop much better strength. His fitness program included strength training and wattbike riding, as well as agility exercises to refine his footwork.
‘Don’t lose your way’
While Cheung was thrilled to reach the peak of his career, he didn’t let the excitement overwhelm him. The fencing champion said he only took a day off on Tuesday and resumed training the next day as he and his teammates looked to fight for another fencing medal for Hong Kong in the team event on Sunday.
With Hong Kong people viewing the four male florists as their hope for the medal, Cheung said he didn’t feel any extra pressure, “We’re just going to keep a normal mentality and do my best.”
As the team countdown to competition day, Cheung shared a photo of his white and gold Nike fencing shoes, with a handwritten line that read, “CKL, don’t get lost.”