On August 16 last year, Stephanie Au broke her own Hong Kong record in the women’s 100-metre backstroke final at the World Cup in Singapore, despite almost missing the event due to the protests at Hong Kong International Airport.
Her time was sufficient to make the “A” qualifying standard (by an infinitesimal 00.03 seconds) and secure her a place at Tokyo 2020. After 16 years of intensive training, everything seemed to be coming right for the then-27-year-old. But six months ago, the Olympics were postponed for one year. So what now for this city’s most successful woman swimmer who, had this year’s games taken place, would already have become a four-time Olympian? Hong Kong’s three-time women Olympic swimmer Stephanie Au shares with us what’s keeps her sane, fit and competitive during the pandemic.
In past Olympics I’ve only achieved “B” qualifying standard, which wasn’t too difficult to reach. Achieving “A” standard has always been the ultimate goal and my life had been building up to this. I’d been aiming to retire from full-time swimming, with the 2020 Olympic Games being my last races. I trained hard in 2019 to achieve my personal best – breaking the one-minute benchmark – so that I could end my career on a high note. The fact that I managed to set a Hong Kong record, as well as getting under the Olympic A-standard time at the World Cup, really was worth the hard work. It also means I’m one of the top 16 swimmers in the 100-metre backstroke. Does that signify I’ve reached the peak of my career?
I have a great support system – my teammates, friends and family – and for that I’m forever grateful. I used to think that swimming as a sport is connected to a lot of things in life, but I’ve slowly realised it’s solely a personal matter. At the end of the day it’s merely another chapter of my life.
It’s a mixed feeling for me. I feel as if the older I get, the harder I have to train to achieve my personal best, but it also means I have an extra year to train. Tokyo 2021 starts on the same date. According to the new, recently announced timetable, I’ll be competing in the 100-metre backstroke in July 2021. So I’m trying to stay active, maintain that level of strength and prepare for the next intensive training. It was a huge relief to achieve the “A” standard – it means I’m guaranteed a place in the race. If not, it would be another year of enduring huge pressure trying to make or break qualifying, especially in a time of great uncertainty.
If it had been the old days, I’d have bought a plane ticket and got out of here, as it’s rare to have a breather. Unfortunately, the second wave of Covid-19 hit Hong Kong as the announcement was made. It was impossible to leave the country with the travel ban, so all we can do is wait and TFH (train from home).
Fortunately, we were allowed to train at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in Sha Tin. Can you imagine all the Olympic athletes stuck in one place? It was like a summer camp for us. We got to play other sports such as badminton, and it was an amazing experience to learn from other champions, like Lee Cheuk-yiu – the second local male player to win the Hong Kong Badminton Open.
I was supposed to head back to the HKSI, but they changed the policy when the third wave struck and now re-entry is prohibited. With swimming pools, gyms and even the beaches closed, there are no other options but to train at home. Usually I do yoga in the morning, followed by NTC (Nike Training Club) or home workouts with friends via video call in the afternoon.
I did. There’s no better time than now to start a new hobby. I’ve been trying out new sports this summer such as pole dancing and wake- surfing with my friends. I’ve always been a fan of surfing but, as we all know, Hong Kong doesn’t have killer waves, so wake-surfing behind a surf boat is a better alternative.
Photography: Alison Kwan
Art Direction: Ng Sepfry
Styling and Coordination: Tiffany Poon
Makeup: ChiChi Li
Hair: John Zhang/GHD Educator
Location: Rosewood Hong Kong