Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cool runnings too as Malaysia and Singapore take up Winter Olympics challenge



Cool runnings too as Malaysia and Singapore take up Winter Olympics challenge

Malaysian figure skater Julian Yee practises in Kuala Lumpur on August 25
Malaysian figure skater Julian Yee practises in Kuala Lumpur on August 25

Cool runnings too as Malaysia and Singapore take up Winter Olympics challenge

In tropical Malaysia and Singapore, Winter Olympics medals are rarer than snowflakes – but a dedicated group of athletes are hoping to change that as they make their countries’ debut Games appearances.

A Singaporean speed skater, as well as a figure skater and skier from Malaysia will compete in the Games, a huge achievement for countries better known for palm-fringed beaches and year-round heat than winter sports.

It is the latest sign of an unlikely, yet growing, interest in ice and snow sports in a winterless, steamy region, where temperatures rarely drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) in most places.

A major milestone for winter sports in the region came last year when they featured for the first time at the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia, with ice hockey, figure skating and speed skating making their debuts.

But it was not without problems – puddles formed on the hockey rink during matches, slowing down the puck and forcing marshalls with squeegees to dash onto the ice to mop up the water.

Figure skater Julian Yee, who will represent Malaysia at next month’s Games, is typical of athletes from the region who have had to overcome a lack of facilities, limited official support and public scepticism to pursue their dreams.

When growing up, the only places he could find to practise were a handful of small, crowded rinks in the shopping malls scattered around the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Figure skating on the tiny rinks was “like trying to get [the world’s biggest airliner] A380 to land on a very small runway”, the 20-year-old said.

But he persevered and began training in the morning and evening when the rinks were less crowded.

“I skated two times a day, six days – sometimes six and a half days – a week,” he said.

There were no official programmes or funding for figure skating so Yee’s parents had to spend huge amounts of their own money on his training.

They also sent him to train abroad during school holidays, in China and South Korea.

“People said: ‘Are you mad? You’re sacrificing all this money,’” his mother Irene Cheow said. “We’re looked at differently now.”

Yee’s efforts paid off and he won gold at last year’s Southeast Asian Games, and came eighth in the 2017 Asian Winter Games. His crowning glory was qualification for Pyeongchang, alongside Malaysian skier Jeffrey Webb.

Singaporean speed skater Cheyenne Goh skates during a training session at an ice rink in Singapore on December 6.
Singaporean speed skater Cheyenne Goh skates during a training session at an ice rink in Singapore on December 6.

Speed skater Cheyenne Goh has faced similar challenges in neighbouring Singapore, where even a modest cold snap can set the population shivering.

This month a freak monsoon surge sent the mercury plummeting to almost 21 degrees Celsius (70 fahrenheit) – chilly by Singapore standards – sending people rushing to the shops to buy scarves and winter jackets.

But unlike her compatriots, Goh got a taste for a cold climate after moving to Canada aged four, where she developed a love of winter sports.

The 18-year-old initially took up ice hockey, a staple of Canadian life, before discovering short-track speed skating while watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

As well as qualifying for the Olympics, she has represented Singapore at the Asian Winter Games and won two silver medals and a bronze at last year’s SEA Games.

Goh, who is taking a year off after high school and splits her time between Singapore and Canada, insisted her success was not unusual.

“It’s not all that strange that I’m representing a country with no winter to speak of at a winter sport,” she said after a recent training session in the city-state.

She is modest about her chances of matching the success of swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal in Rio in 2016.

But supporters hope her participation in the women’s 1,500 metres category will encourage more Singaporeans to take up winter sports.

“After Joseph Schooling’s gold medal, many more became keen on swimming – and we are hoping that the same happens to us,” said Singapore Ice Skating Association president Sonja Chong.

The Malaysian and Singaporean athletes join a small group of Southeast Asians heading to Pyeongchang, including several from Thailand and the Philippines.

No matter how well he does, Malaysian skater Yee said his qualification had already shown that athletes from the tropics can prove the doubters wrong.

“It really does show that many things are possible,” he said. “Even without winter in Malaysia, we can still be there.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (