Leonila at home in Romford with her husband Edward and daughters Francesca and Daniella
LONDON - As Anne Line Gjersem prepares for the Ladies Figure Skating finals at Sochi 2014, her historic Olympic debut may have already inspired a new breed of future skaters through her very own relatives in England.
“I want to be like her,” declared Francesca Bangug Daliva, an 8-year old Filipino cousin of Gjersem. “And I also want to do other sports as well as skating, like tennis.”
The aspiring skater keeps an old pair of skating shoes worn by Gjersem herself from a previous trip to the UK, where she often comes to visit her Filipino relatives.
“My aunt and uncle used to come here and they bought skates for me. And we do skating sometimes around London. They left their skates here and they wanted me to follow them, because I want to be like them,” Francesca explained.
An old pair of skating shoes given to the Dalivas by the Gjersems
Gjersem made history when she qualified for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the first Norwegian skater to qualify in 50 years, according to reports. Her solid performance in the short program - the semi-finals - cemented her achievement with a place in the finals.
“We’ve been following the Olympics and we cannot afford to miss it,” said Leonila Bangug Daliva, Francesca’s mother and Gjersem’s aunt from her maternal side.
“I’m really happy for her. She’s serves an inspiration to all, especially the young generations of today. She was against so many veteran skaters and the fact that she got all the way to the finals as a first-timer is a really big deal.”
Leonila, a younger sister of Gjersem’s Filipina mother Perlina, has always known her niece’s potential from an early age, as she watched her grow, train and compete relentlessly with her twin sister, Camilla.
“I’ve seen them training before, and I can see they were different. They were much better than most. I knew they had something special, and I believe they can go far.”
Other people have also seen this potential since Gjersem’s debut in the winter games, which led to an outpour of support from family, friends and fellow countrymen from around the world.
“We got so many messages of support through mobile and social media. Everyone is really happy about my niece’s achievements. Our friends and family have shown their overwhelming support, and that’s what’s great about Filipinos: we stick together.”
Anne and her twin sister Camilla were flower girls at Leonila's wedding in Manila in 2004
The proud aunt, who works as a nurse in England, attributes Gjersem’s success to a balance of sheer determination, discipline, and unconditional parental support.
Most importantly, Leonila believes the rising twins of skating have the right attitude in life. “They’re very humble,” she revealed. “They’re very sweet and down to earth. They are beautiful inside and out.”
Gjersem made it to the finals of the Ladies Figure Skating after a solid performance in the Short Program semi-finals round on February 19.
South Korea, Russia and Italy are currently in the lead. The event is due to take place on Thursday, February 20, from 3 pm GMT.