History makers: 12 NOCs compete at Winter YOG for first time

LAUSANNE, Jan 17 – When ice hockey player Thawab Al-Subaey won the Qatari selection trials to earn a place at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, he had no inkling what he was in for.

The 15-year-old (above) thought he was on his way to a training camp of sorts.

“I thought it was like hockey school or something,” he said. “I’d never seen the Youth Olympic Games before. I didn’t think it was anything.”

Then came the media blitz, before someone handed him the Qatari flag and told him to march out during the Opening Ceremony, in an arena packed with thousands of raucous spectators.

“They told me I’m the first one to come here,” he said. “I didn’t comprehend that this is the Youth Olympics. The intensity, the exposure.”

While Al-Subaey is Qatar’s sole representative at Lausanne 2020 and the first from his nation to compete at a Winter Youth Olympic Games, he is not completely alone: a dozen National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are participating at the Winter YOG for the first time.

The other teams are: Albania, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Haiti, Kosovo, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Hong Kong, China.

Even after completing her runs down Les Diablerets, it all still feels rather surreal for Alpine skier Audrey Alice King (HKG), one of four pioneering athletes from her NOC in Lausanne.

Audrey Alice King (HKG) in action | Joel Marklund for OISphotos.com
Audrey Alice King (HKG) in action | Joel Marklund for OISphotos.com

“It means a lot to be the first ones to represent Hong Kong at the [Winter] YOG,” she said. “This thought never really occurred to me until I was actually at the Games and everything started to feel real.

“A lot of people are shocked as they are unaware that Hong Kong even has a ski team. Even now, it hasn’t really sunk in. I’m really just grateful for this opportunity.”

Hailing from places that do not have much experience in, or infrastructure for winter sports can make it hard for these athletes to train.

For Singapore’s short track speed skater Trevor Tan, it means hitting practice as early as 6am or finishing close to midnight. The tropical island has just one Olympic-sized rink, a commercial facility shared by short track speed skaters, figure skaters, ice hockey players, curlers and the public.

Short track speed skater Trevor Tan (SGP) | Photo: May Chen
Short track speed skater Trevor Tan (SGP) | Photo: May Chen

But it does not deter these athletes, and a place at the Winter YOG represents significant progress for them.

Tan, who took a year off his studies last year to focus on training, said: “When I first started skating [in 2012], I didn’t know there was the Winter Youth Olympics. My main goal was to qualify for Beijing [the 2022 Olympic Winter Games]. Now that I’m here, it’s like a stepping stone for me. Hopefully I can learn something here and apply it for the future.”

For King, part of her motivation is promoting Alpine skiing in Hong Kong, China.

“I hope to continue improving and advancing in the sport,” she said. “My main hope is that Alpine skiing will continue to expand in Hong Kong and have a larger amount of kids start to race and have the opportunity to be involved with the sport despite being from a city that never snows.”

Medals or not, all of these athletes will return home as history makers.

Alpine skier Mackenson Florindo, Haiti’s only representative in Lausanne, said: “It is a bit of history being the first to represent Haiti. I hope it will not be the last time. I plan to continue in the sport now, for sure.”

Al-Subaey is now well aware where he has been, and where he wants to go. “Now I know,” he said. “Maybe next time I can come back to the Winter Olympics with a Qatar team, with all of my teammates.”

OIS mc/ag/pp/sg

By Olympic Information Service

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