Eyes on ice, more young Filipinos embrace winter sports via Beijing 2022


Nikki Cheng the skating rink at a mall in Pasay City, the Philippines on Jan 21, 2022. - Xinhua

MANILA (Xinhua): In an unusual scene in the tropical Philippines, Charmaine Chua and two of her peers took the plunge into the world of figure skating as the music played, performing a set of movements including jumps, spins, and footwork in a graceful manner.

The 18-year-old, who embarked on figure skating 10 years ago, expects to someday represent her country in international competitions.

"I hope that one day I could compete in Olympics, but it's really a tough process, and it takes hard training to get there," she said.

Odd as it might seem, winter sports have found their way in this tropical country. Drawn by the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, more and more young Filipinos, like Chua, are set to bring more of the elegance and wonderfulness of figure skating into their sports life.

Nikki Cheng, 29, president of the Philippine Skating Union and a member of the Philippine delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics, echoed Chua's statement.

More than 20 years into the hobby, Cheng had a great passion for figure skating. When the indoor skating rink in Manila reopened recently after being closed for two years due to the pandemic, she could not hold back her tears.

"I felt really happy on the first day that I could skate again. To be honest, I cried. I shared the same sentiments with many skaters that it felt like we are coming home again," said Cheng.

Encouraged by her cousins, Cheng took first steps on ice when she was a little girl. After that, she enrolled in summer camps to skate. In her early 20s, Cheng returned to figure skating and had been training once a week ever since.

"I am fond of the cold breeze when I am skating. I don't know the (exact) reason why I love skating; I enjoy it," she said.

Indeed, Cheng's love for figure skating intensified when studying at China's Tsinghua University. She became friends with Ding Yang, a former Chinese pair skater and national champion.

"It was a very good friendship. When the International Skating Union gave a grant for an international coach to come to the Philippines, it happened to be coach Ding. She was very helpful in teaching our athletes, especially the younger ones, during the pandemic. I am excited to see her once again during the Beijing Olympics," Cheng said.

From being a participant, Cheng is now a promoter and dedicated to developing the national athletes of figure skating and speed skating for the Philippines. She believes the Filipinos have a talent for figure skating based on their "Asian body build" and have a good chance of progressing in this sport.

Although the Philippines is short of ice and snow sports facilities, Cheng still hopes to invite more international coaches to teach and further develop the country's young athletes and provide more training programs and courses to both the athletes and beginners in the future.

Cheng expressed hope that everything would go smoothly and everyone would be safe for the coming Beijing Winter Olympics.

"I want to enjoy the atmosphere, experience the snow and winter once again. As I understand, the Beijing 2022 organising committee has been very dedicated to ensuring the safety of everyone. I am wishing all the athletes of the Beijing Olympics the best, including our delegate," she said.

Except Cheng, the Philippine team -- two from Manila and three from the United States, including Alpine skier Asa Miller -- will leave for Beijing on Jan 28. Cheng will depart for Beijing on Jan 30.

Miller, 21, will be the only winter athlete from the country to compete in his second straight Winter Olympics. In a video message on Saturday, he expressed hope that his journey could inspire more young Filipinos to join winter sports and his country "could see more Filipino representation in the future."

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