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MANILA, Philippines – All eyes are on young skier Avery Uriel Balbanida as the last Filipino on deck in the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in Gangwon, South Korea.
The Filipino-Canadian prospect will compete in the Philippines’ final two chances at a breakthrough medal in the men’s sprint freestyle and 7.5km classic skiing on Tuesday, January 30, at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre.
The challenges will be expectedly tough, as contenders from frigid countries Norway, Finland, and Sweden lead the 80-strong start list, but Balbanida is ready to soak in lessons from the upcoming experience, win or lose.
“It’s truly an experience that I want to save here and just like I said before, the chance to ski with the greatest skiers of my age is something of a chance I cannot pass,” said Balbanida, also a taekwondo blackbelter and a roller sports enthusiast. “So I’m going to take my time and enjoy the moment.”
“I really want to try my best and I’m honored to be here. Pressure? It will help me more to be motivated and it gives me more drive.”
At the bare minimum, Balbanida will try to leave South Korea physically unscathed, as his two compatriots, Fil-Am Peter Groseclose and Fil-Swiss Laetaz Amihan Rabe, both left the country with injuries as souvenirs.
The 16-year-old Groseclose, who competed in the 1500m and 1000m short track speed skating events, crashed and cut his foot in his final 500m event, causing him to miss out on a historic medal and finish fifth instead of third.
The 14-year-old Rabe, meanwhile, only took home to Geneva the positive memory of flag-bearing duties, as she suffered knee and jaw injuries before she could even compete in the women’s free ski slopestyle event.
Regardless of the tasks at hand and the perils surrounding Balbanida, his Canada-based Australian coach Allison McArdle just wants her ward to enjoy the entire experience as he gears up for more events in their pipeline.
“We don’t have a specific goal, we just hope he tries the best he can and enjoy the competition,” she said.
“I’m going to continue competing in the World Cups, Junior World Cups and even the world championships,” Balbanida added. “And I hope to compete in the 2026 Olympics in Italy. I got some good racing experience and this competition has really refined my abilities.” – Rappler.com