INSPIRED by films such as The Mighty Ducks and Cool Runnings, the Malaysian ice hockey team are diligently preparing for the sport’s debut at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
The introduction of three winter sports for the first time at this month’s Games in Kuala Lumpur has given a new group of athletes an opportunity to appear on a big stage.
The Malaysian team, who train in them middle of a construction site on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is comprised of young professionals and school leavers.
They have been training full-time for the past month, taking part in 13 sessions a week, as they gear up to compete with Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand at Empire City in Selangor from August 20-24.
“This is the closest we’ll get to training like a professional athlete,” said Khoo Seng Chee, 31, a senior member of the team.
“We’ve been training 13 times a week and that’s basically all we’ve been doing.”
For players such as Khoo, who has played the sport since he was 14, having ice hockey recognised at the SEA Games is a dream come true.
He and many of his peers taught himself how to play by watching online tutorials and attempting to mimic moves he saw in movies such as The Mighty Ducks.
But it was another feature film – based on the real-life efforts of the Jamaican bobsled team to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 1988 – that provided real inspiration for Khoo and his team-mates.
“When me and the guys watched the movie Cool Runnings, we just started bawling because we could really relate to story.
“We were doing exactly what they were doing.”
The inclusion of winter sports in the SEA Games – ice hockey is joined by figure skating and short-track speed skating – raised some eyebrows when it was announced early last year.
For starters, none of the competing countries have naturally-occurring snow.
But most of the 11 competing countries – the five nations taking part in hockey are joined at the Games by Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Vietnam – are expected to send athletes to compete in the winter sports.
Mohd Fadzli Johan, the president of the Ice Skating Association of Malaysia, said: “We lobbied to include winter sports in the summer games since 2015. The SEA Games officials wanted more Olympic sports to be included, so we saw this as an opportunity for us.”
A big turning point came when they were able to convince a property developer to include a US$7 million (30 million ringgit) ice skating facility, featuring an Olympic-sized rink, in their latest project in Kuala Lumpur.
“We tried for many years to convince developers to include a proper ice skating rink in their plans, but there were no takers,” said Allan Yeoh, a former national team captain who now manages the facility.
“But we’re very happy that we now have a state-of-the-art facility already completed.”
With the facilities in place, and three winters sports now part of the SEA Games, Mohd Fadzli sees no reason why Malaysia cannot compete at the Winter Olympics – potentially at the Pyeongchang Games next year.
The country’s best hope would appear to be figure skater Julian Yee, who is ranked 37th in the International Skating Union’s men’s singles rankings.
The 20-year-old, four times the Malaysian senior national champion, will compete at the SEA Games and is hoping to qualify for Pyeongchang with a strong showing at the CS Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September.
Should he qualify for Pyeongchang, Mohd Fadzli feels it could prove a watershed moment for winter sports in Malaysia.
“We are just one step away from the Winter Olympics,” Mohd Fadzli said. – Reuters.