PETALING JAYA: They had never seen snow before – but that did not stop two Malaysian teenagers from striking gold three times at the Austria Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017.
Sandakan teens Norysuhadatul Aulia Saidina Maarufi, 17, and Noraini Zakaria, 15, were on top of their game, capturing three gold medals in snowshoeing races between them.
Overall, the contingent ended on a high note with a total haul of five medals – also winning two silvers and a bronze, all for snowshoeing – for Team Malaysia.
For the girls, it was their first time out of the country and also the first time coming into contact with snow.
In fact, the first time they put on snowshoes was the day before the tournament.
Norysuhadatul Aulia won two gold medals in the snowshoeing race female division mixed age group (13-20 years) 100m and 200m events, while Noraini bagged a gold for the 200m event in the 12-15 years group.
Danish Rosli, 17, from Miri, won two silver medals: one each for the 100m and 200m snowshoeing race for age 16 and above.
Along with teammate Muhammad Umar Hafiy Mohd Firuz, 14, from Kuala Lumpur, the four secured a bronze medal in the 4x100m mixed group division snowshoeing relay.
Danish and Muhammad Umar are dyslexic while Norysuhadatul Aulia and Noraini have learning disabilities. Norysuhadatul Aulia is also hearing-impaired. This was the first games for all four.
To prepare for the competition, the athletes trained on sandy beaches and in shallow water to simulate snowy terrain.
They would also run up and down the stairs at sports complexes, as well as run and train at the gym, to build stamina.
Malaysian delegation head Lam Saw Yin said that although there were many events, the Malaysian team only took part in snowshoeing.
“Hopefully, we can participate in future games and in other categories, maybe floorball or floor hockey. Because of funding constraints, we could only send a small delegation this round,” said Lam, who is also a volunteer with the Special Olympics Sabah NGO.
She thanked coaches, sponsors, volunteers and parents who made the trip possible.
“The coaches and I are happy for the athletes because of their effort in training hard to get what they achieved,” she said, adding that it was a very enriching experience for the youths. The Malaysian contingent consisted of Lam, four athletes and two coaches.
The event, held from March 14 to 25 in Ramsau, Austria, drew some 2,700 athletes from 107 nations.
Abu Dhabi will host the next games in 2019.