Earlier this month, the world witnessed the Philippines’ best-ever Olympic medal haul in Tokyo 2020 — a historic feat in what many believe to be the best sporting event in the world.
Fresh off the country’s first Olympic gold medal, it isn’t surprising then to see a couple of athletes such as figure skater Michael Martinez trending on social media as netizens clamor to support our national athletes. After all, Beijing 2022, if not delayed, is only six months away.
During Pyeongchang 2018, the Filipino contingent consisted of two athletes, with Martinez competing for figure skating and Fil-Am Asa Miller for alpine skiing. For the upcoming Winter Olympics, in comparison, the Philippines has so far qualified one athlete for alpine skiing but has not named anyone for the position. It will also attempt to qualify athletes for figure skating and speed skating.
Shedding some light on these Olympic preparations, President Nikki Cheng of the Philippine Skating Union (PHSU) shares with CHiNOY TV the details behind the Olympic qualifiers for Beijing 2022, as well as her personal hopes and insights on the Filipino skating scene.
The Winter Olympic bids
During the height of Hidilyn Diaz’s gold medal success in Tokyo, online netizens would have guessed Michael Martinez to be a sure Olympic bet. Not only is he the first Southeast Asian figure skater to compete in the Olympics, but his GoFundMe page, which announced his intentions to compete in Beijing, had also gone viral. Martinez, however, withdrew his bid to enter the upcoming Winter Olympics due to an injury, so the question now lies: Who else is vying to compete in Beijing 2022?
As announced by the Philippine Skating Union (PHSU) last Friday, August 21, the current roster of Olympic skating bids include figure skaters Edrian Celestino (men’s singles) and Sofia Frank (ladies’ singles) and speedskater Julian Macaraeg. Celestino and Frank are set to compete at the Nebelhorn Trophy scheduled from September 22 – 25 in Oberstdorf, Germany. The competition will serve as the final Olympic qualifier for the figure skating sport. To compete in Beijing 2022, Celestino will need to rank in the top seven of the Men’s discipline while Frank will need to rank in the top six.
The two skaters chosen by the PHSU to represent the Philippines were determined with a two-part national qualifier competition. Nikki Cheng, president of the PHSU, explains:
“The two-part evaluation [consists of] one virtual and one live competition. The virtual competition was the one that was streamed online. The athletes were required to do a one-take video of their program in their respective rinks on a declared date and time to mimic actual competition scenarios. After that, we gathered their videos and had a set of international officials judge the skaters. As for the second part of the evaluation, the athletes were required to attend a live competition in the countries [they were currently residing in]. [We] summed up the scores with the virtual event to assess who is the best to send in the Olympic qualifiers.”
Meanwhile, Macaraeg will compete in four separate tournaments in the World Cup series held across both Europe and Asia from October to November this year. Only those ranked within the top 32 for the 500m and 1000m races or the top 36 of the 1,500m race can book an Olympic slot.
Figure skaters Sofia Frank & Edrian Celestino will compete in the Nebelhorn Trophy this Sept while speed skater Julian Macaraeg, will compete in World Cups 1 – 4 from October-November. These competitions are qualifying events for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
— Philippine Skating Union (@phskating) August 20, 2021
Providing support to winter athletes
For those unfamiliar with the local figure skating scene, the PHSU is the national sports governing body for figure skating and speed skating — sports that are not especially popular or memorable for a tropical country like the Philippines due to their costly winter attributes.
As the president of the organization and business development manager of the SM Sports and Leisure Center, Nikki Cheng explained that this is where the PHSU steps in, working towards goals of spreading interest and building international competitiveness. “We hope to be able to produce more homegrown talent in both sports, and provide them with a better training environment. We want to continue to elevate the coaches locally in order to improve the quality of training that will be available in the Philippines.”
On a personal note, she added, “I am glad to [be involved in] both sports development and [as] the President of a national sports association in SM. SM is the only place where ice skating rinks are in the Philippines. Being in this position allows me to do a lot of improvements in our own facility while having the opportunity to expand my reach from the grassroots up to the elite level. The new team behind PHSU are all excited to execute and develop programs for the sport to further progress in the country.”
In addition to organizing national competitions and ice shows, the PHSU provides seminars, hosts training camps, and distributes financial opportunities for aspiring athletes. Last August 9, for instance, the PHSU awarded scholarships granted by the International Skating Union (ISU), Philippine Olympic Committee, and International Olympic Committee to skaters Alisson Perticheto, Julian Macaraeg, and Diane Panlilio.
Announcing the PHSU 2021 Scholarship Awardees 🇵🇭❄️
Our National Athletes will receive grants from the International Skating Union, Philippine Olympic Committee, and International Olympic Committee for their training development in their chosen ice sports. Congratulations! pic.twitter.com/OFSr7aAHId
— Philippine Skating Union (@phskating) August 9, 2021
“These grants will help the athletes subsidize costs for either coaching fees or equipment. Though they don’t cover the whole costs of training, we’re grateful that this support will help our skaters bring their athletic potential to greater heights,” explained Cheng.
But more than that, the PHSU also hopes to be able to grow the sport recreationally and make it more accessible to the public.
“Other than the competitive side, we also want to grow it recreationally. It’s actually a very good form of exercise. Ice skating can help you burn [up to] 600 calories in an hour,” Cheng commented encouragingly. “We want people to be more aware that there’s this fun activity that they can do to stay fit.”
That said, Cheng conceded that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic does make things more difficult for those who want to enter the sport. “Now that there’s a pandemic, if you want to get started, grab yourself a pair of roller skates. It’s a good way to kick off the basics of balancing and gliding. Then [you] can transition and try out ice skating when the rinks are back in operation.”
Sharing what she loves most about the sport, Cheng said, “I skate. In the ice skating rink, even if we sweat, we’re out in the cold, and it makes it better. Going fast with that cold breeze on our faces…
“It’s a good feeling.”