Hong Kong's Lee tunes out critics for cycling worlds


Berlin (AFP)

Sarah Lee will attempt to defend women's keirin and sprint gold at this week's track cycling world championships in Berlin, although some argued she should have been banned from representing Hong Kong over accusations of supporting anti-government protests.

Lee, who considering quitting cycling after her 2016 Rio Olympics flop, found herself in the middle of a social media storm last year over comments perceived as backing pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city.

While she received plenty of support for embracing freedom of speech and speaking out for Hong Kong, Lee's remarks also prompted calls from netizens for her to be stood down.

The 32-year-old suspended her social media account in the wake of the controversy, but Hong Kong's Sports Institute -- where Lee trains -- declined to take action, saying "there are no grounds for saying her comments had anything to do with the protest".

Upon reopening her Facebook page three months later, Lee wrote that she had closed it for "a lot of different reasons, among the biggest was that I did not want to see people abusing each other on the page, especially among Hong Kong people."

She continued: "I have to say I have been struggling for a while, fearing there may be fabrication from the media, fearing people who may use their own words to interpret my sentences, fearing speculation made by people on the internet, fearing getting involved in political turmoil, fearing it may affect the Olympic Games.

"But in the end I don't want to abandon it. I won't back down because of these fears."

Lee wrote herself into Hong Kong's history books by winning the city's first ever Olympic cycling medal -- only their third overall -- with a bronze in the keirin at London 2012.

The Berlin Velodrome, built as part of the city's failed bid to host the 2000 Olympics, will from Wednesday welcome nearly 400 riders from 46 nations -- with India and Latvia set for their world championships debut.

The event, held on a track rebuilt in 2017, will be the final one in the Tokyo Olympic qualifying window. The ranking cut-off is on March 2.

- Kenny double act -

Husband-and-wife Olympic champions Jason and Laura Kenny will be among the names to watch, the latter opting against surgery on a broken shoulder in order to compete.

Laura Kenny, double Olympic gold medallist in the omnium and team pursuit, intends to defend both titles in Tokyo. However, injury means she will miss the latter event in Berlin.

Three-time sprint silver medallist Stephanie Morton returns as part of an Australian squad that won a joint-best six golds alongside the Netherlands at the 2019 worlds in Poland.

Former sprint champion Matthew Glaetzer, who underwent surgery and treatment in November for thyroid cancer, was a late withdrawal due to a leg injury. Kelland O'Brien, a member of the 2017 and 2019 gold-medal winning men's team pursuit line-up, has also been ruled out.

Germany's Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt will bid for a third successive triumph in the madison, which will be reinstated to the Olympic programme in Tokyo.

Dutch two-time defending women's omnium champion Kirsten Wild, 37, is again the favourite in the multi-race event, while Russian duo Daria Shmeleva and Anastasia Voinova will look to regain the women's team sprint title they last won in 2017.

Nicholas Paul of Trinidad and Tobago set a fyling 200m world record at the Pan American Games and is on the cusp of booking his Olympic spot.

Elia Viviani, the 2016 Olympic men's omnium champion, is taking a brief hiatus from road racing with Cofidis to join up with the Italian team.