The conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Beijing means another chapter of sporting history written. For the Philippines and its developing winter sports bodies, this is manifested in the form of Asa Miller — the only Filipino athlete to qualify for Beijing 2022.
As a tropical country with limited winter sports facilities, local interest in ice-and-snow sports has been sparse. In fact, the Philippines has only been able to send a grand total of two athletes to the last three iterations of the Olympic Winter Games. Figure skater Michael Christian Martinez makes up half that number with his attendance at Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 while Miller, who competes in alpine skiing, represented the other half together with Martinez in 2018 and alone in this year’s Beijing Games.
However, this isn’t to say that there is no love for the cold in the Philippines. Offering us a glimpse into the icy bubble of 2022’s Olympic Winter Games is Nikki Cheng, who not only serves as the president of the Philippine Skating Union but also as a member of the Philippine delegation sent to Beijing.
“The Winter Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event for winter sports. It means so much to me to be able to experience this, [being part of] one of only two national sports federations in the Philippines that cater to winter sports. Being able to witness it is such a big highlight for my career. It’s definitely an eye-opener and a source of inspiration to achieve more for Philippine ice sports in the years to come,” shared Cheng.
Unsurprisingly, Cheng’s position as the president of a national figure skating federation is greatly indicative of how much love she has for the ice. Her passion for it grew especially when she studied at the Beijing-based Tsinghua University, where she became friends with former pair skater and national champion Ding Yang, whom she was able to recently reunite with.
Prior to this, Cheng’s friendship with Ding also paved the way for the Chinese national to visit the Philippines and coach young Filipino skaters during the pandemic.
Because of the strict rules implemented for COVID-19, Cheng was unable to revisit her alma mater and the rest of Beijing. Despite this, she was still able to enjoy the most of her Olympic experiences as a Philippine delegate.
“The Beijing Olympics have been great! I totally understand that the Beijing Organizing Committee had to implement a closed loop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have everything we need in the Olympic villages anyway. There’s a wide variety of food choices in the dining hall, from Western to Asian to Halal dishes and more. We can also order from Pizza Hut and KFC as much as we want! It’s been a delightful experience — the most memorable would, of course, be witnessing the figure and speed skating events at the [world’s] biggest winter sporting event,” said Cheng.
On watching the athletes of Beijing 2022
Acting in official capacity, Cheng has had the opportunity to see the Philippines’ lone Olympic entrant Asa Miller compete against the best athletes of the alpine skiing sport. Although Miller was not able to finish his runs in both the giant slalom and slalom events, Cheng recognizes that being able to compete in Beijing 2022 is, in itself, already a large achievement.
“Coming from a tropical country, having an athlete compete in the Winter Games is already such a big win. Though Asa was not able to deliver the results we were all hoping for, we’re glad to have been able to join him in this milestone. It was a great experience for all, and I’m sure Asa also took in learning experiences that will further fuel him in his athletic career,” said Cheng.
Aside from watching Miller, Cheng also made sure to look into other sporting events like figure skating, which was recently marred by a controversial doping scandal involving Russian singles’ skater Kamila Valieva. The fifteen-year-old, who had been a favorite for the Olympic gold medal in the women’s event, tested positive for the banned drug trimetazidine but was still cleared to compete.
Commenting on the situation, Cheng stated, “I do not agree with having [Valieva] compete after testing positive for doping. This scandal affected the integrity of the sport of figure skating and the Olympic Games. I’m happy for the podium finishers that they were able to experience a medal ceremony at the Olympic Games.”
That said, Cheng still enjoyed performances of the sport, naming Adam Siao Him Fa (France), the newly crowned Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen (USA), and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) as her favorites for the men’s event. For the women’s discipline, she also loves to watch Mariah Bell (USA).
On the Olympic future of Philippine skating
More than anything, Cheng ambitiously looks forward to watching Filipino skaters once again take their place on the Olympic stage.
“I hope and aim for a lot of firsts for Philippine skating in the next Winter Olympics,” said Cheng. Specifically, she wishes to see the country have its first short speed track speed skater join Milano Cortina 2026. “Julian Macaraeg was the first to participate in the Youth Winter Olympics in 2020, and I’m hoping he makes it to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.”
On the figure skating side, Cheng reveals that she also places high hopes on Filipino-Americans Isabella Gamez and Sofia Frank. Gamez is a pair skater who has spent the last year training with her new Russian partner Alexander Korovin, who had previously been a Winter Universiade champion in 2019. Meanwhile, Frank is the Philippines’ latest addition to the women’s national team.
“The Philippines has never sent a female, not just in figure skating, but in any sport in the Winter Games. This is something that I hope we can achieve for the Philippines in the next Olympic cycle,” expressed Cheng.