They were two of Hong Kong’s young elite athletes. Now they’re the city’s latest It-couple. Daryl Hung, table tennis pro-turned-dentist and Cecilia Yeung, the city’s favourite high jump star come together to talk about relationships, growing up together and how they continue to support each other.
When Daryl Hung was training as a table tennis professional at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, his dorm room overlooked the track and field. That was the first time he laid eyes on Cecilia Yeung, who was at that time a star athlete and Hong Kong’s best-known high jumper. Did Hung sit in the spectators’ stand and watch her training, or did he try to bump into Yeung in the food hall? “Not at all,” Yeung exclaims. “He sent me a friend request on Facebook and I almost declined it.”
That was more than 10 years ago, before the advent of dating apps, when social media was still a means of catching up with friends and family, and the term “influencer” was still in its infancy. “It’s nothing against Daryl,” says Yeung. “I just didn’t really know who he was and thought maybe he added me on Facebook by mistake. But then we started chatting and one day, he asked for my number.”
It was still all just friendly though, Yeung insists. “Some days, Daryl didn’t even reply to my messages.”
Here, Hung chips in, sheepishly. “I was just trying so hard to prolong our conversations at that time, so I’d sometimes wait until the next day before I replied and it’d feel like we’d been talking much longer.”
It’s a typical love story, for two not-so-typical teens. For Yeung and Hung were elite sportspeople, training at the top institute for their sports when they began dating. Many of their dates revolved around their training schedules, and Yeung recalls Hung bringing her to the doctor when she injured herself and subsequently sharing a meal together. I ask what her first date was like. “That might have been the first one,” they tell me.
Yeung would go on to set a Hong Kong record in 2017, when she cleared 1.88 metres in a high jump and continued on her professional journey, while Hung found success elsewhere – he now practices dentistry after retiring from table tennis and going back to school.
“I was playing table tennis professionally for two years before I retired,” Hung tells me. “At that time it wasn’t a difficult decision, as I felt that my heart was no longer in it. Of course, when I first started training at the Sports Institute I had dreams of going to all sorts of international matches. But table tennis is the national sport and there’s a lot of competition, even among ourselves. When I told my family I wanted to go back to academia, they were very supportive.”
Was Yeung supportive as well? Yeung’s own journey hasn’t been without strife and the athlete’s personal motto has always been one of grit and persistence: aim high and never give up.
“To be honest,” Yeung says with a laugh, “we hadn’t known each other well enough at that point for him to have come to me with advice when he wanted to quit.” What would she have told him had she known? After a thoughtful pause, Yeung says, “I wouldn’t have advised him any differently if his mind was already made up. Some people play sports because they have talent and they win a lot and they like that. But to dedicate your life to a sport requires more than that. It’s a lot of hard work and you have to keep going even when you keep losing. Besides, it’s not like Daryl’s life isn’t great right now. He’s found something else he’s good at after retiring.”
Yeung speaks from experience, as she’s had her fair share of winning and losing. After setting the Hong Kong high-jump record, she endured several major injuries that set her back. When we first interviewed Yeung in 2021, she’d just recovered from a torn Achilles’ heel and felt she was in a much better place at last, with goals set high to qualify for the Asian Games and beat her own personal best. But, as it turned out, her heel still bothered her and last July she suffered another injury to the knee while warming up for a competition, causing her to withdraw from the race in tears.
But the tears were momentary. Yeung picked herself back up and, hard as recovery is, she isn’t giving up just yet. “I can walk and jump and run like a normal person now,” Yeung explains. “But I can’t high jump yet without it hurting and this time I really want to take the time to heal.”
In previous interviews, Cecilia Yeung speaks of “hang time”, the moment you’re suspended in mid-air during a jump where it feels is if time has stopped. Penning her thoughts on social media, she says she hasn’t felt that in a long, long time. But because her love for the sport extends beyond the game and the medals, she’s still here. She’s gone back to the basics, strengthening her foundations from the ground up.
“Why do I like high jump? I’ve been asked this many times,” she wrote on Instagram during her rehabilitation period. “I like the hang time, I like the feeling of explosive speed while practicing clean and jerks during training, and I like how it feels to conquer new heights. But I haven’t felt any of these in a very, very long time. So why do I do it? The greatest joy of it all is knowing that I accomplished them myself. And so even in pain, I have to endure them myself.”
Yeung has spoken of her mindset before – that nothing worth having ever comes easily. It’s a lesson she’s learned time and time again. All the while we spoke about injuries, Hung had stayed quiet. I ask him: “How does Cecilia’s injuries make you feel?”
“I worry for her,” says Hung, “but it also frustrates me. Cecilia’s extremely headstrong when it comes to her sport – and even in our relationship – but there have been times when I felt the need to tell her off as well. She tends to keep things to herself but she should have sought help earlier to avoid injury.”
Hung’s taken to the role of doting boyfriend very seriously, something Yeung is eternally grateful for. “He’s there to pick me up after work, after training, after doctor’s appointments,” she says. “He’s by my side no matter what and is always there to support me, literally.”
Since starting on the road to recovery, Yeung says her goals have changed: she’s still chasing her personal best record, but is no longer hung up on competitions or comparing herself to others. Healing takes time. For now, she’s continuing with her professional training while pursuing other dreams, one of which came true last year when she established her lifestyle brand Aim Higher Club.
“I’ve always wanted to do something entrepreneurial since I was young,” says Yeung. “I love cooking, so I thought about opening a café – I’ve had several ideas. But what I knew was that I wanted something tangible, and something that represented who I was.”
Aim Higher Club launched with a selection of apparel and accessories that radiated Yeung’s good vibes and positive energy. “Aim Higher is a mentality for a better self,” says Yeung. “It’s our objective with the brand. I wanted to design things that were, like, reminders to myself as well, like our water bottle with the words ‘Let’s Drink More’.” The brand may be new, but it’s already made its mark with exciting projects, such as a cross-over with BeCandle to create an exclusive citrusy scent that came with a crystal singing-bowl soundtrack to raise concerns about mental health.
Yeung hopes Aim Higher Club will serve as a starting point for anyone keen to learn more about her sport – and she certainly has more than one inspiring story to share. She also wants to work with other athletes to incorporate their messages into forthcoming new designs.
I ask Hung whether Cecilia Yeung is the most positive person he’s ever met? “Yes,” he answers without hesitation. “She always knows to look at the brighter side of things.”
Aim high, never shoot low. Aim higher, get ready and off they go.
Words Stephanie Ip
Creative Direction & Styling Alvin Goh
Photography Reuben Foong
Make-Up & Hair Alvin Goh
Photography Assistants Ko Po Lun and Cliff Chik