KUALA LUMPUR: Come February, figure skater Chew Kai Xiang will create history when he becomes the first ever Malaysian to compete at the Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
No Malaysian has ever competed at a Winter Olympics, whether at senior or youth level, and 16-year-old Chew is now braced for the biggest occasion of his young skating career at the Feb 12-21 event.
"I'm very happy to get this opportunity. I know I can't get a medal but I will do my best there," said Chew after the flag-handing ceremony at the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) Museum in Kuala Lumpur today.
Chew, who first took to an ice rink at the age of four, will compete against 15 other competitors in the men's figure skating event including those from top winter countries such as the United States, Japan and China.
The Japan-based skater has taken a year off from school to train in Osaka to prepare for Lillehammer and attempt to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"It's really hard as I stopped studying for one year to train in Japan," he said. "I train in the morning, then I go for (Japanese) language classes for three hours before I train again at night. So it's a very tight schedule. But I need to do this to qualify for the (2018) Olympics."
Chew is actually a replacement for Julian Yee Zhi Jie, who won Malaysia's spot in Lillehammer after finishing 19th at the World Junior Championships in Talinn, Estonia in March.
But as Yee is over the age limit of 17, his place went to Chew, who is the country's No 2 ranked junior skater.
OCM president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar said Chew's historic achievement bodes well for winter sports in Malaysia.
"A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and in the short period of time since ice skating began here, we have a qualifier for the Winter Youth Olympics and it bodes well for the sport," said Tunku Imran after handing the Jalur Gemilang to chef-de-mission Fadzli Johan, the Ice Skating Association of Malaysia president.
"It's a very demanding sport and the athlete himself has a taken a year off from school to fulfill his dream. I take my hat off to him and also to give some recognition to Julian Yee, who actually did qualify on behalf of Malaysia though unfortunately he's now overaged."