Pride for Asian-Amer­i­can skaters on Olympic ice

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - OLYMPICS By Deepti Ha­jela

Keita Horiko glided across the rink at the Ice House, pick­ing up speed as he at­tempted a jump — and sprawled in a fall as he came back down.

Un­fazed, the 10-year-old U.S. Fig­ure Skat­ing ju­ve­nile boys cham­pion got up and started skat­ing again. His older brother, 13-year-old Yuki, also was on the ice, prac­tic­ing his own moves as they wound down their sec­ond prac­tice of the day be­fore head­ing home to Man­hat­tan and do­ing it all again the next day.

They’ve got Olympic­size dreams, and when they watch fig­ure skat­ing at the Pyeongchang Games, they’ve got plenty of role mod­els — a his­tory-mak­ing U.S. fig­ure skat­ing team where half of the 14 mem­bers are Asian-Amer­i­can.

“It’s very in­spir­ing and it makes you think, I want to be like them,” Keita said.

While there have been Asian-Amer­i­can fig­ure skaters rep­re­sent­ing the United States at past Olympics — the most high-pro­file be­ing gold medal­ist Kristi Ya­m­aguchi in 1992 and sil­ver and bronze medal­ist Michelle Kwan in 1998 and 2002 — there never has been any­thing like this.

For the women, there’s 24-year-old Mi­rai Na­gasu and 18-year-old Karen Chen; on the men’s side, 18-year-old Nathan Chen and 17-year-old Vin­cent Zhou; among the ice dancers, sib­ling pair Alex Shibu­tani, 26, and Maia Shibu­tani, 23, and Madi­son Chock, 25.

It’s a heady mo­ment, es­pe­cially be­cause AsianAmer­i­cans as a mi­nor­ity group have long faced stereo­types of be­ing more about books and brains than any­thing else.

“I think it’s su­per­cool and ex­cit­ing,” said Mai Hoang Par­men­tier, 35, of Yakima, Wash­ing­ton, who got into watch­ing skat­ing when she saw Ya­m­aguchi com­pete.

“For me grow­ing up you had the stereo­type of oh, Asians are good at math or academia or art or mu­sic,” she said. “I just like the idea that my daugh­ter can see that she doesn’t have to be pi­geon­holed, that she can ac­tu­ally be good at sports.”

Ryan Mor­ris, 28, of Berkeley, Cal­i­for­nia, agreed. The skat­ing fan planned on mak­ing sure his young nieces and nephew watched it with him.

“They’re go­ing to see in the most im­por­tant sport in the Win­ter Olympics ... peo­ple who look like them,” he said. “It’s a good feel­ing.”

Olympian Scott Hamil­ton said Ya­m­aguchi’s and Kwan’s not only skat­ing on a world stage but win­ning was likely an im­pe­tus for a younger gen­er­a­tion of Asian-Amer­i­cans, and their par­ents, even to con­sider it.

“A lot of it is see­ing a sport and see­ing oth­ers be suc­cess­ful and say­ing, I want to do that, and that’s what you need,” he said. “Win­ning re­ally cre­ates in­ter­est.”

There’s al­ready been some suc­cess — skat­ing in the team event, Na­gasu be­came the first Amer­i­can woman to com­plete a triple axel in the Olympics. That led to some con­tro­versy when Bari Weiss, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, tweeted about the feat with the words, “Im­mi­grants: They get the job done.” Na­gasu was born in Cal­i­for­nia, and the since-deleted tweet was crit­i­cized by some who said it touched on Asian-Amer­i­can con­cerns about con­tin­u­ally be­ing as­sumed to be for­eign­ers.

Even that has echoes in pre­vi­ous Olympics, as in 1998, when a head­line af­ter Amer­i­can Tara Lipinski won the gold medal read, “Amer­i­can beats out Kwan.” Kwan was born and raised in Cal­i­for­nia.

In this year’s games, much of the hoopla around pos­si­bly win­ning has fo­cused on Nathan Chen in par­tic­u­lar.

The Salt Lake City, Utah, na­tive, who pre­dicted as a 10-year-old novice cham­pion that he would be at the 2018 Olympics, has been show­cased as an ath­lete to watch at these games be­cause of his ath­leti­cism and mul­ti­ple quadru­ple jumps. He is con­sid­ered a fron­trun­ner in the in­di­vid­ual men’s event, even though he got off to a rough start by fin­ish­ing fourth in the men’s short pro­gram for the team skat­ing event af­ter an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic fall dur­ing a triple axel.

That Asian-Amer­i­cans are be­ing rep­re­sented on the men’s side as well as the women’s is im­por­tant, said Phil Yu, who writes about pop cul­ture and other sub­jects on his An­gry Asian Man blog.

Chen’s over­all pres­ence and suc­cess “is a pow­er­ful state­ment for Asian-Amer­i­can men who have gen­er­ally had this stereo­type hang over them of be­ing not ath­letic, not ex­pres­sive,” he said.

“To have some­one like Nathan Chen ex­cel, not only ex­cel but blow all these other peo­ple out of the water, it’s a pow­er­ful thing,” Yu said.

It cer­tainly is for Yuki Horiko. See­ing some­one Asian-Amer­i­can like him go af­ter Olympic gold “gives me more con­fi­dence” for his own hopes, the 13-year-old said.

“If he can do it, maybe I can do it.”

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