Just when their Olympic dream was at their fingertips, Hong Kong's rugby sevens players stumbled at the final hurdle.
An agonizing 12-7 defeat to hosts South Korea in sudden-death extra time left Hong Kong frustrated in their quest for an outright place in the Tokyo Olympics next year.
A late try by Chang Yong Heung in Incheon secured the Koreans a place at Tokyo 2020, sending Hong Kong into a tough international repechage in Biarritz, France, where the final Olympic spot will be contested by 12 teams.
"It's really disappointing, but we still have one more chance to get to the Olympics in June, but it will be tougher," said veteran winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
"I think we really were nervous towards the end, and maybe everyone wanted to be the hero, and we lost our structure a little bit. But this experience provides many lessons ... to help us learn how to control our emotions when it comes to the crunch and to make adjustments so we keep in control of the game."
Yiu described the final as "a good but very painful, lesson."
Cado Lee Ka-to echoed Yiu's sentiment, saying: "There is disappointment for sure. We came into this tournament knowing we had a great chance to get to Tokyo 2020 ... there is nothing left do to but pick ourselves up and immediately begin preparations for the repechage."
Indeed, Hong Kong looked imperious as they marched to the final with an unbeaten record, winning all their four matches without conceding a point. After blitzing Malaysia and Chinese Taipei by 54-0 scores in the pool stage, coach Paul John's men swept Afghanistan 38-0 in the quarter-finals and then the Philippines 26-0 in the semi-finals.
Against South Korea, Hong Kong took a 7-0 lead midway through the first half with Jamie Hood crossing over for the first try and converting his own effort.
But Russell Webb, who was influential during the entire weekend, suffered an injury during the play and had to come off soon after.
A converted try by Park Wan Yong levelled the scores at 7-7.
"Momentum shifted a hell of a lot in that game, but we had enough chances to win," John said.
He was particularly heartbroken about the play that led to South Korea's winning try. "To be on their line in extra time, five meters away, but a penalty goes against us and they go all the way."