Terence Chew grew up in hot, humid Singapore, but his dreams are of ice — and of making the team for the tiny equatorial nation’s first ever offer to contest …
Terence Chew grew up in hot, humid Singapore, but his dreams are of ice — and of making the team for the tiny equatorial nation’s first ever offer to contest the Winter Olympics.
Chew is a hopeful speed skater, aiming to fly to the flag with a fledgling team that Singapore is putting together for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The 23-year-old undergraduate, who is undergoing compulsory military service, trains several nights a week with the goal of topping 60 kilometres (37.3 miles) an hour — twice as fast as his current best speed.
“If you can discipline yourself to do something that you want to, there’s always time for it. You have to make time for what you want,” he told AFP.
Singapore is an overachiever state, attaining industrialised status in just one generation and constantly aiming to be Asia’s best or the world’s best in all sorts of fields from education to technology.
But with a population of just five million — a million of them foreigners — and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees all year, it does not have a huge pool of winter sporting talent.
What it does have is is plenty of money, thousands of young Singaporeans working and studying overseas and a government determined to use sport as an instrument of national pride.
Singapore’s dreams are reminiscent of the Disney film “Cool Runnings,” based on the true story of sun-baked Jamaica’s bobsled team and its comical but successful campaign to enter the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
“You have Singaporeans doing amazing things,” said Teo Ser Luck, a senior official of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, referring to Singaporeans scaling Mount Everest and crossing Antarctica.
He admitted that entering Sochi 2014 may seem like an impossible dream right now but added that the effort alone could be worth it.
“It hopefully can inspire many other young people to come forward and say not just for Winter Olympics, not just for winter games or sports, but for anything that they want to do, that they continue to pursue their dreams.”
Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 organising committee, challenged Singapore in August to aim high.
“Nothing is impossible for Singapore,” local media quoted him as saying.
“Qualifying for the Games is a feasible goal. Why not go for a miracle and have an Olympic medallist in 2014?”
To get things going, Singapore is setting up a national sports association encompassing snowboarding and skiing.
“I’m sure there are talented snowboarders and skiers amongst the Singaporeans living outside Singapore, including even some in Singapore,” said Low Teo Ping, a veteran sports official spearheading the formation of the association.
Low, who is vice-president of Singapore’s National Olympic Council and head of the national rugby association, said the hot climate was just an inconvenience.
“The world today is a lot smaller than what it used to be so people in Singapore also in fact travel distances to ski, to snowboard,” he said.
Besides snowboarding and skiing, the city-state is also hoping to nurture short-track speed skaters.
The Singapore Ice Skating Association (SISA) organised a training camp and trial in September to identify local talent.
Out of 80 participants, 14 athletes were scouted and sent to Changchun, China for a week-long training camp in September.
In China, Singapore beat neighbouring Malaysia in a mini-competition, said SISA president Sonja Chong.
“We now have a core of committed athletes that plan to train seriously,” she said. “If we don’t dream, we will never get there.”
A Canadian coach supervising the local trials, Yves Nadeau, said the country had potential in winter sports if it sustained the training programme.
However, the Sochi 2014 team will have to wait two more years before Singapore gets its own 20,000 square foot (1,858 square metre) Olympic-size ice skating rink, which is to be part of a shopping mall.
The current rink, also in a shopping centre, is just 10,500 square feet in size.
Athletes compensate for this by doing more land-based exercises which concentrate on building up specific muscle groups used in speed skating, and going overseas to train on ice whenever possible.
Despite the lack of ice for practice, Chew remained confident that he could become Singapore’s answer to Jamaican runner Usain Bolt — On Ice.