Olympics 2008 Features
Tropical Singapore heading for Olympic ice-skating rink (Feature)
By Kai Portmann Sep 15, 2010, 5:44 GMT
Singapore - Winter sports might not be a traditional pastime for a tropical nation, but the tiny city-state of Singapore is pushing to send its first athletes to the Winter Olympics in four years' time.
After a three-day talent hunt, the Singapore Ice Skating Association picked 12 skaters late Tuesday to attend a training camp in China with some getting the chance to fly the nation's flag in the short-track speed-skating competition at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
'There is a lot of potential here,' said Robert Gambardella, chief of sports development at the Singapore Sports Council. 'You can start fresh. You can start new.'
Singapore announced its ambition to target the 2014 Winter Olympics days into the Vancouver Games in February.
'We've been inspired by tropical countries who have been sending athletes to the Winter Olympics,' Teo Ser Luck, senior parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, said, citing Ghanaian skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong as an example.
If the plan works out, Singapore, with a population of 5 million people, would follow the example of two South-East Asian neighbours.
As the first in the region, the Philippines sent two alpine skiers to the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Thailand was represented by a crosscountry skier in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games.
Given the dynamics of the Asian body structure, Singapore identified short-track speed skating as one of the winter sports to focus on.
'Speed skating fits the Asian body type very well,' said Gambardella, noting that athletes from South Korea and China put their mark on the Vancouver Games.
Starting Sunday, the Ice Skating Association invited Singaporeans to an audition to represent Singapore in short-track speed skating.
More than 100 hopefuls registered, and 80 skaters, ranging from a 10-year-old girl to a 55-year-old woman, eventually turned up at Singapore's only ice-skating rink at Kallang Ice World.
'They mainly came from figure skating and in-line skating,' said Kaori Zage, adviser to the association for the talent camp, which was sponsored by the International Skating Union.
After two days of training under Canadian speed-skating coach Yves Nadeau, who has more than three decades of experience under his belt, 30 participants were shortlisted for the remainder of the programme.
The 12 athletes Nadeau finally chose are to take part in an eight-day training camp in Changchun, China, this month.
'This is to kick-start something that could be very successful,' Zage said.
In May 2009, Singapore launched a multimillion-dollar scheme, the Olympic Pathway Programme, for potential medal winners at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
It included athletes like table tennis player Feng Tianwei, who helped Singapore win silver in the women's team event at the 2008 Beijing Games and stun champion China to clinch the world title in May.
But the potential Winter Olympians can so far not expect the same benefits.
'If it looks like a good investment, we will get some more money from the government,' Gambardella said.
Singapore's shot at the Winter Olympics 'is a multi-year kind of strategy. It's a long-term strategy,' he said. 'We are not looking at producing a medal winner by 2014.'
After laying the foundation, a system for developing an elite of winter sports athletes could be put in place to aspire to glory at the Winter Games, he said.
'It's a stretch target, but I believe we can achieve it,' Teo said. 'Singapore always has a can-do attitude, and we will never flinch away from stretch targets.'