By Jelly Musico
YANQING, China – It’s not only Asa Miller who’s chasing for the Philippines its first Winter Olympics medal in Beijing 2022, but there are seven more from Southeast Asia—a fully tropical region on this side of the planet.
Timor Leste, Thailand and Malaysia are represented in these Beijing Games with most of their athletes competing alongside the Filipino-American Miller in alpine skiing.
Miller’s on his second consecutive Games, but someone else from the region has campaigned in three straight editions.
Yohan Goutt Goncalves, a French-East Timorese, has been chasing his Olympic dream since Sochi 2014 and looks at Sunday’s men’s giant slalom with a potential shot at the podium just like the Portland-based 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—who are also going after Malaysia’s first-ever Winter Games medals.
All are, for obvious reasons, based outside of the region where there are only the wet and dry seasons with no snow at all.
With Southeast Asian blood in their veins, Goncalves and Miller have bonded together.
“We trained together and I think he [Miller] is a very good skier,” Goncalves said. “I believe he could be faster than me but let’s see on the race day.”
The 27-year-old Goncalves 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 but what is important is that Timor Leste is represented here,” he said.
The bond extends to the Malaysians.
“We really support each other … with the Malaysian skiers too,” he said. “We train, we give advice to each other and stay together.”
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 based in St. Bernardo, Italy, during a break in training on Thursday at the Athletes’ Lounge of the National Alpine Skiing Centre.
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 based 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 prides itself as the first fully tropical country to participate in the Winter Olympics when alpine skiers Ben Nanasca and Juan Cipriano, who are cousins, competed 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’s 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 has athletes in these Games. (PR)