What’s in a name?
Well, if we look at swimming star Stephanie Au, her Chinese name marks a typical example of the ancient rite of naming a baby according to the “five elements” – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water – a key doctrine in Taoist cosmology.
If a baby’s time of birth as well as the horoscope indicate that he or she may lack one or more of the “five elements”, then the name to be given must be abound in the missing elements as a remedy.
So what did Stephanie, Hong Kong’s much-idolized swimmer, seemingly lack among the elements, which had to be reinforced by way of a name?
Examining her given name, Hoi Shun (鎧淳), we can guess that the missing elements may have been metal and water.
Well, this may just be the height of irony.
Metal and water lacking for a swimming champion who has won many medals? You got to be kidding!
Anyway, returning to more serious matters, we all know that Stephanie is now almost a household name in Hong Kong.
The champion swimmer also drew global media attention after she carried the Hong Kong SAR flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
After capturing people’s hearts with her stunning looks and charming smile, Stephanie is now a darling of advertisers and cinephiles, having made her maiden appearance in the latest installment of the long-running romantic comedy franchise “Love off the cuff”. In the movie that premiered on Valentine’s day this year, the sports star portrayed a couch potato.
Stephanie has also been the dubbed voice of Félicie, heroine of the Canadian-French 3D musical adventure film Ballerina.
Glossy ads featuring the queen of swimming are often seen in Hong Kong’s train and bus stations.
Despite her new-found recognition as an entertainment industry figure, Stephanie told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that she sees herself as an athlete, first and foremost.
Stephanie embarked on her swimming voyage for a quite whimsical reason.
“I asked my father, when I was pretty young, who would he attend to first, my mum or me, if we fall into water. He told me if I could swim, I could save myself. That’s how I began going to a lido swimming pool.”
Born into a well-to-do family, Stephanie was also able to pursue other hobbies like ballet. But at the age of nine when she had only one day off school each weekend for extra-curricular sessions, she had to make a choice. She decided then to throw away her pointe shoes and focus on taking laps up and down a swimming pool.
“Ballet is dull but in a pool you can mingle with people. And there are so many ways to try in the sport, be it butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, or individual medley.”
What began as a novelty soon developed into assiduous training.
“We had to practice every step over and over again, like how to start the stroke and propel your body forward the moment your fingertips touch the water. Any lag, even by a hair or less than a second, can cost you the prize,” noted Stephanie, who is now 25 and has participated in three Olympics.
The swimmer still lives on the Hong Kong Sports Institute campus in Shatin, where she is currently on a strenuous daily training schedule amid preparations for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. She spends four to five hours in the pool daily and also works out in the gym.
Despite her tough schedule, Stephanie says she feels lucky compared to her peers in China, noting that athletes there have to follow an even more hellish timetable.
In other comments, she said she doesn’t consider herself to be a statuesque stunner or a “goddess of Hong Kong’s sports circle”, as some fans and media have described her, despite her growing cult following.
She has never had the “modelly” rail-thin frame, says the swimmer, who notes on her Facebook page that she is 171 centimeters in height and 132 pounds in weight.
Stephanie also resented being called a child prodigy when she was admitted into the University of California, Berkeley. She now has a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics and policy.
“I went to UC Berkeley because I could swim really fast, not because I aced exams,” she said, hinting that the media may have embellished some stories about her.
But her overall grade was 23, out of the full mark of 30, in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. That was way above the average.
Now that she is drawing growing fame as a newly-minted actress, with some fans affectionately calling her “Oriental Venus”, she is not without a mental struggle as to what activities she should focus on, experiencing a predicament similar to what she faced when she was nine.
The swimming pool can sometimes be seen as a backwater compared with the glitz and the trappings of show business, but Stephanie is aware that it is her sport that has put her where she is today.
That gives us hope that she will continue to dazzle us with her dash and panache in the pool.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 6
Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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