Olympian Jamie Yeung on Swimming, Michigan, and the 852
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Olympian Jamie Yeung on Swimming, Michigan, and the 852

Olympian Jamie Yeung on Swimming Michigan and the 852 3

Tokyo 2020 Olympian swimmer, Hong Konger, and Michigan University alumna Jamie Yeung had the Olympics set in her sights since she began competing in the pool at the age of 12.

The 24-year-old braved the city of Tokyo in the summer of 2021 to compete in a 4 x 100-metre medley relay with Hong Kong’s elite swimmers, joining her record of international competitions that have covered Asia, Europe, and North America.

Arriving to Hong Kong following the games, Jamie faced the love of a city that supported the burgeoning international swimming team, and the entrance into her new life working in the city’s intense finance world.

Jamie sat down with The Beat Asia for an exclusive interview to speak about her childhood pursuit for swimming fast, university ambitions competing at the highest level, her inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 squad, and the future as a part-time athlete corporate worker.

Jamie’s youth was spent outdoors and playing sports. “I would always just go to the beach with mom, or they would bring me to a swimming pool on the weekends,” Jamie said. Coming from an active family, she was exposed to a lot of different sports at a young age.

Enrolled at St. Stephen’s College Preparatory School in Stanley, Jamie entered the school swimming team, involved in interschool sports meets competing against other middle school student-athletes. Through a friend, however, Jamie was introduced to the Stingrays, a competitive Division 1 swim club at Hong Kong International School (HKIS).

“I start swimming [with the Stingrays] and really loved it because of the friends that I made and just how much fun it was to train with a bunch of kids and have fun after school. That's how [my love for swimming] started.”

It was a move to HKIS that supported Jamie’s pursuit for new heights in swimming and academic career continuing education in the U.S. At HKIS, she met swimming coach Anthony Kattan, who instilled the very principles Jamie brought throughout her swimming career and Olympics journey.

Photo credit: Jamie Yeung

“His influence on us being more competitive for the sport grew tremendously. From having fun to setting goals to trying to beat your best time, training more and being more serious at practice.”

“He brought his energy and vibe from where he came from to us. I think that was the turning point when I took something more seriously and start to enjoy competing."

One year after joining HKIS, Jamie began training with the Hong Kong team, landing a place on the travelling team to her first overseas meet, the International Children’s Games in Daegu, South Korea in 2012. It was this event that Jamie met Siobhan Haughey, best friend and silver medal holder from Tokyo 2020.

With her inclusion in South Korea, Jamie, a vital link in the Hong Kong swimming team, grew in her determination to beat others in the pool. She daringly earned a place representing Hong Kong at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China and the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea in 2014.

Photo credit: Jamie Yeung

Jamie's imminent graduation from high school following the 2014 Asian Games saw her reach out to schools in the U.S. to pursue her academic interests in finance and economics and swim professionally.

Her search for further education took her to a swimming scholarship with the University of Michigan, studying economics and entrepreneurship and swimming with the Michigan Wolverines, one of the most highly respected college swimming programs in the country.

“I didn't really prioritise, either. I think it really went hand in hand for me, like it balanced each other out. And I was just trying to improve in both things. And I had the best support from the school and from my teachers and peers. And so, it was really easy to do my best in both situations,” Jamie told The Beat Asia.

“I was just trying to improve in [my swimming techniques and academic work], and I had the best support from the school and from my teachers and peers. So, it was easy to do my best in both situations. I had the best time meeting the best students and faculty.”

Photo credit: Jamie Yeung

The following 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia saw Jamie clutch a silver medal in the women’s 4 x 100 metre medley relay. "The medal at [the] Asian Games meant a lot. [We swam] really well individually and how we put ourselves in a position to medal.”

“After the Asian Games, I was like, let’s [aim] for the Olympics. Let’s try and spend two more years in the sport and focus on being a full-time professional athlete and finding new ways to better at the sport.”

Nearing the end of her bachelor's degree in 2019, Jamie made the National Collegiate Athletic Association swimming team with Michigan, a personal height reached in her goal to swim nationally and represent her home country. The sky above Ann Arbor, Michigan was her limit and Jamie knew that placing in the Olympics was next.

However, the familiar story of COVID-19 came barrelling down in early 2020 and forced Jamie online for studying her masters at the University of Michigan and out of the pool for vital training.

Returning to Hong Kong in 2020, Jamie saw her times in her signature breaststroke event falling and COVID-19 preventing her to train for two months for the Olympic games in Tokyo that was near a full-year postponement.

“We had a pool at the [Sports Institute where I swam] and I was just like, okay, like, one more year, let's go for it and train hard. [Due to] COVID, a lot of competitions were closed and training outside was cancelled.”

“I had this goal in mind of staying motivated, trying to achieve this goal. It was morally tough on all athletes mentally to keep, training even though there aren't meats or official times that count towards qualifying.”

Training alongside breast-strokers Siobhan, Stephanie Au, and Karen Tam, Jamie entered Hong Kong competitions in March, April, and May of 2021 for her chances to get a ticket for the Olympics. “Prior to the [qualifiers for the Olympics], we weren’t ready. We were not sure we were going to make it; people were more nervous for us.”

“But it just worked out.”

Photo credit: Jamie Yeung

On June 27, 2021, the final local qualifying meet for Tokyo, Jamie swam a 107-second split in a 4-x-100-metre breaststroke medley and “hit the jackpot.” She placed on the travelling team to Tokyo, set to swim the medley.”

“On the last absolute day to qualify for the relay for the Olympics, we did it.”

Words were not enough to describe the emotions and experience of Jamie’s Tokyo Olympics stint in an interview with The Beat Asia.

“It was a dream come true! I soaked it all in. Being in the village [meeting] all these world-class athletes was just a privilege. You feel so humbled to be there, to be a part of them,” Jamie said.

“I loved the opening ceremony during the moment we like walked out. It was really cool. The whole experience was something I will remember for a lifetime.”

Truthfully, Jamie does not remember much when she competed, flush with a rush of adrenaline and hype. “It was a blur,” she told The Beat Asia. “I just told myself, swim your heart out, don’t care about anything, and don’t DQ (disqualify).”

“I did try my best to be in the moment and look at the audience, even though there weren't any. My team and everyone were super supportive.”

Jamie swam the 4 x-100-metre medley relay with Siobhan, Toto Wong, and Camille Cheng, placing 13th in the rankings with a time of 4:02.86. Whilst unable to advance to the finals of the race, the feverish support back home grew exponentially.

On their return to the city, Hong Kong’s Olympians were treated like celebrities. Jamie vividly remembers the team’s Aug. 19th bus parade set for Tsim Sha Tsui, where the delegation of 46 saw thousands of Hong Kongers cheering their timely return to the city.

“I think [going to the Olympics] was definitely life changing in terms of my career, but also branding myself. I have wanted to utilise the platform that I have, this voice, to use it and advocate for what I think is right see what I can do with my new identity.”

Arriving back to Hong Kong in late summer 2021 from the games, Jamie set her sights on two goals: to inspire the next generation of student- athletes and budding sportspeople to chase their dreams, and to chase her next step with a career she was passionate about.

In September 2021, Jamie Yeung begun a role at the Big Four company EY as a business consultant, a position that has allowed the athlete to learn from a different industry and begin a career in the commercial business world.

“[Participating in the] Olympics was my ultimate goal. When it was over, I had to start my other career, a career I studied for in school and pursuing my interest in consulting.” Currently, Jamie works in the business transformation department, assisting companies in new digital and technology solutions for the future.

In a Zoom interview with The Beat Asia, however, Jamie is determined to challenge for the swimmers’ next opportunity overseas to race: the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

“I am challenging myself, alongside full-time work, to qualify for the games. With a qualifying meet in April, I want to re-qualify in the [50-metre] breast.”

If Jamie places in the top two spots, she’ll travel north to compete; if she doesn’t, “that’s okay,” she said. “This is a goal for me, pressure- free. Something more than the Olympics would be an extra run.”

During renewed COVID-19 restrictions in the face of Hong Kong’s fifth wave of infections, Jamie spends her weekdays working-from-home and training with dumbbells, weightlifting, yoga, and running. On the weekends, she travels to Sha Tin to the Sports Institute, where Hong Kong athletes train, to practice her swimming.

Last year ultimately posed challenges for Jamie that the now athlete-corporate worker wants to break for 2022.

“The first challenge [in 2021] was not being able to qualify individually which had always been my goal. I was actually really hard on myself as I had set high expectations. I had to change my mindset.”

“When I knew I would only go for the relay, I told myself it’s already really good. It definitely took a lot of thinking for myself to adjust my mindset on how to be okay with it, how to let it go, and say this is this is already something great that you're accomplishing.”

Her transition from Olympian and full-time athlete to a corporate worker has also brought forward challenges required to overcome. “I think I am still battling this. Towards the end of [2021], I [began] to accept the transition. I am still training, I am still a part-time athlete, and I will always be an Olympian.”

“However, my transition from the pool to the office is a big challenge with everything I do, from mindset to my attitude. It’s a very different environment that I need to get used to and it's something new that I've never done, right.”

“I reminded myself that what I learned, being a professional athlete, a student athlete, for so many years, can still apply to the workplace.”

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