Southeast Asian athletes continue to pursue Winter Olympic dream

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 10 2022 03:36 PM

The Philippines' flag bearer Asa Miller leads AFP
The Philippines' flag bearer Asa Miller leads the delegation as they enter the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. Jewel Samad, AFP

The Philippines' Asa Miller is not the lone athlete from a Southeast Asian country who is seeking a breakthrough in the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Seven other athletes from Timor Leste, Thailand, and Malaysia are also representing Southeast Asia in the Beijing Winter Games, with most of the athletes competing alongside Miller in alpine skiing.

While Miller is making his second Winter Games appearance, East Timor's Yohan Goutt Goncalves is now in his third campaign.

He has been chasing his Olympic dream since Sochi 2014, and is hopeful heading into Sunday's giant slalom where he will be up against the Filipino-American Miller.

Thailand has the most qualifiers with four — Zanon Nicola (men's alpine skiing) Jaiman Mida Fah (women's alpine skiing), Mark Chanloung (cross country skiing) and his sister Karen (cross country skiing).

Alpine skiers Jeffrey Webb and Aruwin Salehhudin, meanwhile, are representing Malaysia.

All of these athletes are based outside the region which features only wet and dry seasons, with no possibility of snow.

But with Southeast Asian blood in their veins, the athletes have bonded together, notably Goncalves and Miller.

"We trained together and I think he [Miller] is a very good skier," said Goncalves. "I believe he could be faster than me but let's see on the race day."

Goncalvez, 27, was 43rd in slalom in Sochi but didn't finish in Pyeongchang. Like Miller, the chase for a medal here remains a dream.

"We are still very far from a medal," he acknowledged. "But what is important is that Timor Leste is represented here."

The bond extends to the Malaysians.

"We really support each other … with the Malaysian skiers too. We train, we give advice to each other and stay together," he said. 

Nicola is also competing in men's giant slalom and slalom events, hoping to bounce back from a forgettable DNF performance in Pyeongchang. 

"It's nice to meet someone like you from Southeast Asia. This is my second time in the Olympics and I hope to do my best this time," said the 25-year-old Thai-Italian skier, who is based in St. Bernardo, Italy.

He will be competing in men's giant slalom and slalom events on Sunday and Wednesday, while teammate Webb will be racing only in slalom. 

Mark and Karen Chanloung already competed in cross country skiing but failed to advance in the 15 km +15 km skiathlon, men's sprint free qualification and women's sprint free events. 

Karen Chanloung, however, competed in the women's 10-km classic event on Thursday, while alpine skier Jaiman Mida Fah did not finish in the women's giant slalom and slalom events last Monday. 

Salehhudin, who is baed in Colorado Springs, finished a respectable 38th out of 82 participants in the women's giant slalom ruled by Swedish Sara Hector early this week. Salehhudin, however, didn't finish in Wednesday's women's slalom. 

The Philippines is the first tropical country to participate in the Winter Olympics, when cousins Ben Nanasca and Juan Cipriano competed in the alpine skiing event in Sapporo 1972.

The cousins set the tone for more Filipinos seeing action in the Winter Games and to date, the country has the most participation in the quadrennial competitions among Southeast Asian nations at six —Sapporo, Calgary 1988, Albertville 1992, Sochi 2014, Pyeongchang and Beijing.

Thailand is next at five (2002, 2006, 2014, 2018 to 2022), Timor Leste three since Sochi, and Malaysia in Pyeongchang and Beijing.

Besides the four Southeast nations, there are 14 tropical nations from South America and Africa continents which have athletes in the Games.