Hangzhou, China, September 26, 2023: Emotions ran high as Hong Kong China gave a superb send-off for veteran winger Salom Yiu Kam Shing by defending their gold medal in rugby sevens at the Hangzhou Asian Games on Tuesday night.
Salom, 35, was playing in his fourth and last Asian Games, and the Hong Kong China men’s team, led superbly by Max Woodward, gave him the perfect farewell by defeating Korea 14-7 in the gold medal final.
It was the second successive Asian Games gold medal at rugby sevens for Hong Kong China, who also won it five years ago at the 2018 Jakarta Games. A composed victory proved that win was no flash in the pan, and that Hong Kong China is a real force in the shorter version in the region.
“The pressure was on us to retain our title. I was feeling it even more because I knew this would be my last Asian Games. I’m proud of the way the guys won it; they didn’t let that pressure get to them,” said Salom, who started the match but was substituted at halftime.
Salom, who was the Hong Kong China flag bearer at the opening ceremony, was lifted by his teammates soon after the final hooter went as they celebrated both the gold and in tribute to the end of an illustrious career.
The triumphant farewell will leave Salom with a clutch of Asian Games medals – two gold medals and two silver medals (in 2014 Incheon and 2010 Guangzhou) – and enough memories for a lifetime. It was such a poignant moment that it got to him as he broke down in tears while being interviewed by Hong Kong China media afterwards.
Hong Kong China’s path into the final was not easy, having to come from behind to defeat Japan in the semi-finals, 14-7. They were trailing 7-0 before a last-gasp try from close quarters by James Christie tied the score in the dying seconds pushing the game into extra-time. Max Denmark then scored from long range to give Hong Kong China a narrow victory over their arch-rivals.
“That win showed how well we handle the pressure now. In the past, we would have buckled under and we were always regarded as the ‘nearly men’. It is not so the case now, and this victory is proof that we know how to win,” said elated skipper Woodward.
In the final, Hong Kong China led 7-0 at halftime from a try by scrumhalf Cado Lee Ka To with Russ Webb adding the extra points. They added another try soon after the break when Martin Doherty completed good lead up work by the powerful Alessandro Nardoni to increase their lead to 14-0.
Korea struck back with a try with Hong Kong China down to six men after Webb was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, but they couldn’t make any more headway against a determined defence.
The repeat gold medal – plus the women’s team winning the bronze medal defeating Thailand 7-5 – is vindication that the rugby programme at the Hong Kong China Sports Institute continues to deliver, according to Robbie McRobbie, chief executive of Hong Kong China Rugby.
“Rugby has been at the Sports Institute for nearly two decades and we have delivered over the years at the Asian Games. Two gold medals and two silvers is proof and this is only in the men’s competition. Our bronze in the women’s competition adds more gloss,” said McRobbie, who was jumping deliriously in the stands as both the Hong Kong China men and women delivered.
But there is one more goal to achieve – reaching the Olympics. Both McRobbie and Woodward agreed that was the ultimate target.
“Yes, we want to qualify for the Paris Olympics. The Asian qualifiers will be in November in Osaka, Japan, and all our focus is on winning that competition and earning the direct berth for Asia to the Olympics,” McRobbie said. “This win today will definitely boost our confidence.”
Woodward said: “We will first enjoy this win, for a few days, before getting back to work. The Olympics is our Holy Grail.”
This season, Hong Kong China has ruled in the Asian Sevens Series. And now with the Asian Games gold medal in their hands, they are the team to watch out for at the Asian qualifiers for the Olympics.
And will the talismanic Salom be around for that? “Haha, I don’t know yet. I will have to talk to the coach and see. But, as for the Asian Games, this is definitely the end for me.”
In the men’s bronze medal playoff, Japan defeated China 21-19 with an exhilarating try after the hooter had sounded to take home the spoils.