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MANILA, Philippines – As the whole Philippine sports community sets its eyes on the Paris Olympics starting July, three Filipino teenagers will compete for glory in the Winter Youth Olympic Games (WYOG) in Gangwon, South Korea from January 19 to February 1.
Peter Groseclose, 16 years old, was the first to qualify in the short track speed skating event. He joined fellow 16-year-old Avery Balbanida in the cross country skiing tournament, while 14-year-old Laetaz Amihan Rabe rounded out the Filipino participants in freestyle skiing.
The delegation will leave for Korea on the third week of January, with several key Philippine Olympic Committee officials headed by its president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino attending the event.
From ‘barely clinging’ to drastic improvement
Groseclose qualified after making the cut in the 2023 ISU Junior World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dresden, Germany last February 2023, despite competing in his first international season.
In order to qualify, a skater must first place within the top 32 in the world to secure a slot, with other slots opening when a country has multiple athletes on the list.
The Fil-Am speed skater will compete in the 500, 1000, and 1,500-meter events from January 20-24, and had since made big strides, according to Philippine Skating Union (PhSU) chief Nikki Cheng.
“[Last] March, [Groseclose] barely clung on to qualifying for a spot for the Philippines in the Junior Worlds, but we sent him to Korea over the summer to train,” recalled Cheng, noting the teenager’s two-second improvement in his personal best of 41.18 seconds.
“His performance and efforts are now being recognized by the International Skating Union and he has been identified as one of the rising stars to watch out for in the sport,” she added.
Groseclose is coming in hot, having placed fourth overall in the 1000m category.
Balbanida, who hails from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, will be showcasing his skills in both the cross country distance and sprint events, which will be held from January 29 to February 1.
Shifting his focus from Nordic combined to becoming a full-fledged cross country skiier, Balbanida racked up enough points by competing in various sanctioned events in Europe and Canada.
“He has done well compared to his peers, I won’t be surprised if he does well,” said Jim Apelar, head of the Philippine Ski and Snowboard Federation.
Making the most of her chances
At just 14 years old, Rabe pounced on the window of opportunity provided to her.
Being an alternate in both freestyle slopestyle and freeski big air categories, Rabe was the final inclusion to the delegation after the Philippine Olympic Committee accepted the invite to compete in the WYOG from January 24-28.
Residing in Switzerland, Rabe has been honing her craft in the mountainous European nation.
Apelar said even as one of the youngest participants in the quadrennial event – teen athletes can only get a Federation of International Skiing license at 14 – Rabe can go toe-to-toe with her much older peers.
“To see her compete against 18 year olds is surprising, but that’s the age bracket she’s in, and she gets better each day.”
Amid the lack of opportunity to train in the Philippines, the POC is throwing its full support to the three.
“The Philippines may be a tropical country, but the Olympic spirit knows no boundaries,” said Tolentino.
“It transcends climates, uniting us in the pursuit of excellence and the celebration of the human potential…Our athletes are a testament to this Olympic spirit,” he added.
“They have defied limitations and embraced the challenge of competing in winter sports, demonstrating the Filipino determination.” – Rappler.com