Speed, skill and a little bit of savagery – chilling out with our Winter Youth Olympic athletes

20 Dec 2019

By Justin Kor

The temperature on our tropical island is soon set to drop a notch. After our first appearance at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year, Singapore’s glacial foray into winter sports continues next month as we make yet another debut at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. We take a look at the three athletes who have qualified and their sports.

Short track speed skating – flying on ice

Rapid, unpredictable, and intense – in essence, what short track speed skating is about.

With blades for feet, athletes reach speeds of up to 50km per hour as they race around a confined 111.12 metre oval ice track. Sometimes, it seems like they’re flying across the rink rather than gliding. Unsurprisingly, crashes are common. Racers sometimes smash into barriers with a force that will definitely leave a mark on them, and a grimace on spectators’ faces – all part of the thrill that is speed skating.

This exciting spectacle will take place at the Malley ice rink in Lausanne in three events for both genders: 500m, 1000m, and a 3000m mixed National Olympic Committee (NOC) relay. Two of our athletes will be looking to get up to speed on the rink.

Alyssa Pok, 15

At 15 years old, Alyssa spends her school holidays largely in training camps overseas. Photo: Singapore Short Track Speed Skating Facebook

The school holidays are meant for rest and relaxation. But once the term ended for speed skater Alyssa Pok, she promptly packed her bags and headed for Busan, South Korea for a month-long training camp to prepare herself for Lausanne.

Such arduous training camps, lasting between three to five weeks, are how the 15-year old usually spends her school holiday. Busan was her ninth overseas stint, as she trained for eight hours, six days a week. But there are no regrets. “I’ve met a lot of people, gained new friendships, and gotten exposed to new experiences in different countries,” she said.

While speed is key, Pok uses a fair amount of brainpower when skating as well. “Speed skating requires a lot of planning. You have to decide when to overtake and plan for corners.”

At Lausanne, she will also have the added honour of being the flag bearer for the Singapore contingent. “Athletes can represent Singapore at a Games but not all will be a flag bearer. Holding the Singapore flag is a great responsibility that will further motivate me to do my best and make Singapore proud.”

Alyssa Pok will represent Singapore at the Winter YOG as its flag bearer. Photo: Kong Chong Yew

Trevor Tan, 17

Trevor (right) at the recent 2019 SEA Games. Photo: Kong Chong Yew

In January, Trevor Tan took a year-long hiatus on his studies, bade his family goodbye and travelled to South Korea to train alone for one simple reason: to get faster.

A year of gruelling daily eight-hour training sessions at the Goyang Club has paid off for the speed skater. In August, the 17-year old struck gold at this year’s Asian Open Short Track Speed Skating Trophy, when he emerged champion in the 1,000m Junior B Men’s category.

“I can see myself slowly improving – it’s been worth the time and effort,” said Tan, who made the 4,700km trip north with the ultimate target to qualify for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. But he does not have to wait till then to make his Olympic debut, for Lausanne will offer that platform.

Despite a regimental training regime and the precise technique required in speed skating, Tan largely bases his game around gut feeling. “I really love that this sport is instinctive in a way that you can’t predict what is going to happen next. It’s the split-second decisions that matters,” he said.

In January 2020 – exactly a year after he left for South Korea – Tan will fly west this time, instead of north. A good result in Lausanne will be a fine way to cap off this year-long skating odyssey. “I’m looking forward to race against the top skaters from around the world. It’ll be a very good experience and I just want to give it my best shot.”

Everything you need to know about Winter YOG Short Track Speed Skating – click here

Trevor (second from left) was part of the winning team in the men’s relay event at the recent SEA Games. Photo: Kong Chong Yew

 

Ice hockey – a frosty battle on the rink

There is sometimes a feeling that in ice hockey, players are getting ready for war rather than a game. Out on the rink, 12 athletes are outfitted in thick padded uniforms and solid helmets meant to absorb big hits. Each is armed with a hockey stick that is about 2-metres long.

With elaborate outfits and menacing equipment, they do battle over a solid black rubber puck, as they look to outscore each other. In ice hockey, big hits are simply part of the game – see them for yourself on YouTube. But the sport is so much more than that, as they also display immaculate techniques with the sticks and expert skating skills.

In Lausanne, two events will be on show for each gender: a full tournament and a mixed NOC 3-on-3 competition. It will be a fast and furious battle on ice.

Matthew Hamnett, 15

15-year-old Matthew Hamnett wants to show that athletes from the tropics can too excel in winter sports. Photo: Roger Hamnett

For Matthew Hamnett, his love with ice hockey was ignited not from watching players clattering into each other, but rather by the raucous celebrations off it. In 2010, he was in Vancouver on a family vacation when the city’s ice hockey team – the Vancouver Canucks – made the National Hockey League finals.

The euphoria and thrill of the massive street celebrations in the city sparked his interest as he persuaded his parents to let him try out ice hockey back in Singapore. Once on the ice, he fell even harder in love with the thrill that the sport brought. “It is extremely fast-paced, and every decision you make is critical. Any wrong decision can lead to a goal within a split second,” said the 15-year old defender.

His potential is slowly being realised on the rink. At just 13, he became the youngest player to be drafted to the National Ice Hockey League, and recently captained the Singapore national youth team to a silver in the Southeast Asia Youth Cup this year.

In Lausanne, Hamnett will be participating in the mixed NOC 3×3 tournament as Singapore’s sole representative in the sport. He is unfazed and want to make a point. “I’d like to show that as a tropical island, Singapore doesn’t focus only on summer sports. We can do as well in winter sports.”

Everything you need to know about Winter YOG Ice Hockey – click here

Matthew will participate in the Mixed NOC 3×3 event at the Lausanne Winter YOG. Photo: Roger Hamnett