Short Track’s ‘smaller’ nations: Q&A with India, Malaysia & Colombia

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www.isu.org|15-Apr-2019 16:13

Everyone knows about Korean, Canadian, Russian and Dutch Short Track racers but the Short Track Speed Skating is are a truly international affair – and some teams are one-athlete organizations from countries without any winter sport tradition. We sat down with Akash Aradhya, 26, from India, Anja Chong, 25 from Malaysia and Nicolas Laborde, 21, from Colombia to discuss being your own manager, making friends, and having to constantly explain what Short Track is to the folks back home…

 

What got you all into Short Track? 

Akash Aradhya: I’m originally from inline skating. I grew up skating in Mysore [India], and it’s been my whole life. I was India’s No.1 and was in the team from 2010 to 2015. I got into the top 36 internationally and competed at three World Championships. I eventually tried ice skating at a small rink, and really liked it. So in 2015 I moved to Calgary (CAN) to train at the Olympic Oval. I wanted to see if I could reach my potential.

Nicolas Laborde: I was an inline skater and close to making the international team. It’s a big sport in Colombia. We’ve produced a lot of world champions and there are over 20 clubs in Bogota, where I’m from. But when I was 16, I moved to Montreal (CAN) to learn English, and someone asked me if I wanted to try Short Track. I liked it so I stayed. I’ve now done three seasons as a Senior. In Colombia, if you want to do Short Track, you have to leave the country because we don’t have rinks.

Anja Chong: I started as a Figure Skater. I stopped but then I came back on to the ice because there was a camp introducing Short Track into South East Asia. I did it then quit for four years when I went to university to study law. Then I skated for a year, stopped for another year, and now I’m just a month back into training. I love Short Track because there’s so much adrenaline and I like that even though everyone competes they’re very friendly off the ice.

What’s the difference between inline and Short Track? 

Nicolas: There’s a big difference between wheels and blades. Most inline skaters switch to Long Track because it’s much more similar to inline in the way you push. Short Track is about corners, Long Track is more about physical capacity. I will try Long Track one day. But I love speed, touching the ice, doing exciting passes.

Akash: I love Short Track. I think it’s interesting, beautiful, fun and crazy. I really like racing against people, not skating on my own, and that’s why I didn’t go to Long Track.

What’s it like being in a one-person team? Does it make it lonely?

Nicolas: It’s hard moving to a new country. I travel alone, which is not easy. If I have skate problems, I have to go to another team to fix it. But in a way that’s good because you make lots of friends. The bigger teams maybe stick in their group but in a one-man team you’re forced to make friends. I know the Bulgarians, and Akash is a good friend.

Akash: Being a one-man team is mentally and physically hard. I need to be my team leader, manager, physio, coach and skater. The other teams travel together and have fun. There’s a sad part, there’s nobody to ask me: “How are you doing?” I wish I had a team, it would have been good. I don’t ask too much from anyone else but I have made some nice friends. People give you warmth and if something goes wrong you can get some help. So it’s a good experience.

Anja: I’ve been really lucky that all the big teams are friendly and helpful. It’s been great fun getting to know them. I’m very close to the Great Britain girls like Elise Christie and Kathy Thomson because I’ve been training with them in Nottingham (GBR). They took me under their wing. They’ve given me all kinds of advice, like spotting burr on my blades, and teaching me how to sharpen.

What’s it like explaining your sport to people back home? 
Anja: There’s no knowledge of Short Track in Malaysia and I’m our first skater. There’s a mental block about it being a winter sport in a summer country but you don’t need snow outside, just a rink. We now have some younger skaters coming through. Hopefully I can show Malaysians how great this sport is. We just had the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia (in 2017, when Short Track featured for the first time and in which Anja won three gold medals) and I was amazed by the amount of people that turned up to watch. It is growing.

Akash: In India people think I’m an interesting person! They ask: “What is Short Track?” You get a mixed reaction. Sometimes they look up to you. Sometimes they look down on you. In India it used to be the mentality that if you’re not a cricketer, a doctor or engineer, you’re not doing anything in your life. But that’s changing. Cricket is still the most popular but people are being more open-minded.

Nicolas: People back home are proud but they know what I’m doing isn’t easy. The Colombian federation (Colombian Federation of Skating Sports) are helping me to try and build up knowledge about Short Track and I’m trying to do lots of social media, too. My parents help me pay for school and training, and the rest I do myself. They’re proud and they want me to get better.

Smaller teams often have to self-fund and have jobs in order to make it to competitions…

Anja: Yes. I work in business development in the financial services industry. I work remotely, and part-time. I’m based in Asia but I’ve been working in the UK recently. We run masterclasses at Oxford University. I feel like I’ve got the best of all worlds. The office is supportive of my sports ambition and the two things work together. Work is a respite from training and training is respite from work. I found out that if I have less time to work, I use it more productively. But I can’t train as much as the other athletes. Malaysia is a small country and they try to help in whatever ways they can, but I’m mostly self-funded.

Akash: I did a degree in commerce, accounts and business, and I work at my dad’s chartered accountant firm. Last year was my first full season where I competed so when I was in India, I worked every day. Maybe one day I’ll take over the company. Trying to finish the maths for accounting is a big deal so I’ll do that one day, but I couldn’t do both school and skating, so I had to take it down a little bit. It’s hard paying your own expenses. I end up staying at cheaper hotels. But at least my work has made me good at budgeting!

Nicolas: Smaller countries take sport seriously and try to be professional but, at the same time, we have to do something else. I’m studying industrial design in Canada. My dad is an architect and I thought about doing that, but I thought it was too difficult to do that and sport at the same time. At the moment, I concentrate on skating.

What keeps you going in Short Track? 
Nicolas: Moving to Canada has been exciting – the first time I saw snow, my first time skiing. The winters are long but I like it there. And I want to make it to the Beijing 2022 Olympics.

Akash: I’d love to compete at Beijing. I’m enjoying it all so far. We’ve only had a few Winter Olympians in India and it’d be good to get there as a Short Track skater.

Anja: My family say, “Aren’t you tired of running round in circles all day?” but it’s my passion. Until that stops, I’ll keep skating. I just try to be better than the day before. Hopefully I can keep improving and start to keep up with the field. If I can skate the best I can each day, that’s great for me.