Former women's badminton world No. 1 Zhou Mi has started training with the Hong Kong team in a bid to extend her Olympic presence after being waived from China's international team.
Chinese media reported that Zhou has been training in Hong Kong since New Year's Day and has obtained permission to stay for one year through an elites importing plan of the Special Administrative Region.
Zhou placed third in the 2004 Athens Olympics and champion of the 2002 Fusan Asian Games, but left China's international team in May of 2005 because of severe knee injuries.
Zhou explained that the desire for an Olympic medal pushed her back into badminton and choosing Hong Kong means she can still play as a Chinese.
But a trip to badminton powerhouse Malaysia last May caused problems for Zhou as domestic media speculated she might trade her nationality for Olympic opportunity.
Though long absent from the training field, Zhou's participating in Hong Kong still was a cause of worry after former mainland player Wang Chen led the SAR team in breaking out of China's block to achieve a 1-2 at the women's singles in the Doha Asian Games.
Like Zhou, Wang left for Hong Kong in 1999 after finding little hope to become a heroine on China's international team.
Li Yongbo, China's coach in chief, however, played down the possibility of Zhou ruining China's chance at gold in the women's singles in 2008.
"She's training with the Hong Kong team but cannot represent Hong Kong," Li said. "Her injuries are too much of a problem for her to be a threat.""
According to the rules of the International Badminton Federation(IBF), Zhou would normally need a three-year residence in a region before being able to represent it in important competitions like the world championships and the Olympic Games, but if the International Olympic Committee, IBF and China raise no objections, she may start amassing points to obtain Olympic qualification by this May.
"Since she had left badminton for a year and had to begin with an elementary level of competition, it's become very hard for her to obtain enough points to qualify for the Beijing Olympics," said Tang Xuehua, coach of the China women's team.