Ti­mor-Leste, Viet­nam to make AWG de­but

NOC, ath­letes ex­pected to join Asian Winter Games

Arab Times - - SPORTS -

SAP­PORO, Ja­pan, April 27: With the next two Olympic Winter Games set to take place in Asia, it seems that the con­ti­nent as a whole is warm­ing to the ice and snow.

Record num­bers of Na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tees and ath­letes are ex­pected to join the Olympic Coun­cil of Asia’s 8th Asian Winter Games at Sap­poro, Ja­pan, in Fe­bru­ary 2017 - just one year be­fore the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Korea’s first Olympic Winter Games in 2018 will be fol­lowed in 2022 by Beijing, which will be­come the first city to host a sum­mer and­win­ter games in the his­tory of the Olympic move­ment an­other feather in the cap for Asia.

But it is not only the tra­di­tional winter sports power houses such as Ja­pan, Korea, China and Kaza­khstan that are con­tribut­ing to the rise in pop­u­lar­ity and par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Asian Winter Games.

From the sun-baked deserts of the Gulf to the steam­ing jun­gles of south-east Asia, ath­letes are emerg­ing with skates in their bags and hockey sticks over their shoul­ders in search of ice and snow.

At Sap­poro 2017, for ex­am­ple, Ti­morLeste and Viet­nam will be among the coun­tries mak­ing their AWG de­but, while the ice hockey com­pe­ti­tion has at­tracted a bumper en­try of 28 teams – 20 in the men’s event and eight in the women’s.

“We have re­ceived a lot more en­tries than we ex­pected,” saidHisat­sugu Ya­mazaki, Man­ager of the Sports Af­fairs Depart­ment of the Sap­poro Asian Winter Games Or­gan­is­ing Com­mit­tee.

“I am sur­prised that they play ice hockey in such hot coun­tries. We were ex­pect­ing about 16 teams in to­tal for the men’s and women’s com­pe­ti­tions, but we have 28 now.”

Th­ese in­clude Thai­land, Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore from the OCA’s South-East Asia zone, and Qatar and Bahrain from West Asia.

Ya­mazaki be­lieves there are sev­eral con­tribut­ing fac­tors.

“Firstly, the In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion is try­ing to de­velop this sport in coun­tries out­side the tra­di­tional hockey-play­ing na­tions,” he said.

“Sec­ond, it is a sport you can play in­doors, with­out the need for cold con­di­tions out­side, and third, the econ­omy of Asian coun­tries is get­ting bet­ter so they can build more ice rinks for the public. In the Gulf andSEA re­gion coun­tries it’s very hot to play sport out­side, but an ice rink is cool and it feels nice to play in­side.”

A to­tal of 46 del­e­gates from 31 NOCs at­tended the three-day Chefs de Mis­sion Sem­i­nar for the 8th AWG Sap­poro 2017, in­clud­ing Mo­hamad Fad­zli Jo­han, team leader for Malaysia and pres­i­dent of the na­tion­al­ice skat­ing as­so­ci­a­tion.

Malaysia will be en­ter­ing the fig­ure skat­ing, short track speed skat­ing and ice hockey at Sap­poro 2017, with ath­letes al­ready train­ing in­Canada for fig­ure skat­ing and Korea for short track.

“We are also very proud and thank­ful to the Olympic Coun­cil of Malaysia that ice sports will be in­cluded in the South East Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 for the first time,” he said.

“We re­ally hope this will help our ath­letes in fig­ure skat­ing and short track qual­ify for the Olympic Winter Games for the first time– at PyeongChang 2018.”

Viet­nam’s winter sports man­ager, Le Quan, ex­pects five or­six ath­letes to com­pete at Sap­poro 2017, in cross-coun­try ski­ing, alpine(slalom), fig­ure skat­ing and pos­si­bly snow­board.

He puts the in­ter­est down to the PyeongChang 2018 Dream Pro­gramme run by Gang­won Prov­ince and aimed at giv­ing young­sters from coun­tries with no winter con­di­tions the chance to see snow and ice.

Look­ing ahead to Sap­poro 2017, Mr Le said: “I guess peo­ple will think it is very in­ter­est­ing that a trop­i­cal coun­try can at­tend a snowgames. We are also ex­cited.”

As for Ti­mor-Leste, their one ath­lete set to com­pete at Sap­poro 2017 is al­ready an Olympian: Yohan Goutt Gon­calves, born in France to a French fa­ther and mother from East Ti­mor, Carolina De Mas­caren­has, who is not only the Chef de Mis­sion but also Yohan’s mother.

Yohan, a slalom and gi­ant slalom skier, be­came the first ath­lete from his coun­try to com­pete in the Olympic Winter Games, at Sochi 2014,and it was a proud mo­ment for his mother/chef de mis­sion to march in the open­ing cer­e­mony be­hind the flag of the coun­try from which she had left as are fugee in 1975.

Not only did the sight of the flag on the in­ter­na­tional stage in­spire the peo­ple back home, it also helped a “lost gen­er­a­tion” re­gain their iden­tity af­ter the 25-year oc­cu­pa­tion by In­done­sia, ac­cord­ing to Carolina.

“He be­came a role model for Ti­morese ath­letes and re­ceived so many mes­sages from not only young ath­letes but older peo­ple in their 70s and 80s,” she said. “Some stu­dents over­seas even took up ski­ing, and ad­mit­ted that they were scared of the snow be­fore they saw Yohan at the Winter Olympics.”

No doubt in Sap­poro next year, Ti­morLeste, Viet­nam and other teams from desert or trop­i­cal coun­tries will pro­vide the 8th AWG with an­other colour­ful chap­ter in OCA his­tory.

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