2017 Feb 22
A Sri Lankan snowboarder has overcome her nerves and a astounding lack of experience to blaze a trail at the Asian Winter Games as the Sri Lankan woman to compete in the event. Despite “freaking out” and then falling at the start line, 16-year-old Azquiya Usuph took off and hurtled down a mountain at breakneck speed in the women’s snowboarding in Sapporo on Sunday, crashing several times.
While her fellow competitors raced down the icy course with the hope of winning a medal, all Azquiya wanted was to make it to the bottom in one piece. Although she ultimately did that, the youngster was disqualified after missing a gate.
“When I got to the starting gate, I was so scared and I fell over straight away,” Usuph told reporters. “I fell over like four times and although I missed one of the gates I still made it to the finish,” added the unlikely pioneer.
“My main goal was to complete the race. I’m actually very happy because I’m new to snowboarding.”
Sri Lanka is better known for producing cricketers than skiers, but our wonderfully tropical island is apparently developing a winter sports program! Sri Lankan Olympic officials insist Usuph won’t be the last woman from her country to take on similarly hair-raising challenges.
Usuph’s brave foray came as part of a drive to promote winter sports across the entire Asian region, which will host Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang and Beijing in 2018 and 2022.
“Not everyone can be winners but we’re sending a message that Sri Lankans are capable of doing anything if given the right training and opportunities,” said National Olympic Committee secretary-general Maxwell de Silva.
At the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, tropical Jamaica made headlines by entering the bobsleigh competition, inspiring the 1993 comedy “Cool Runnings.”
Usuph, an improbable contender, was selected because she is a talented swimmer, having won a national age-group title in backstroke. The first time she saw snow was in 2015, when she was packed off to South Korea to learn how to snowboard.
“I actually learnt to snowboard really fast, in a span of 14 days, which was kind of surprising,” said Usuph, who has no plans to take up the sport seriously.
She has also spent time at a training camp in Slovenia and regularly surfs to improve her balance and turns. But not unlike any normal human being, when she climbed the mountain in Sapporo and stared down the steep slope, the nerves kicked in.
“I was freaking out a bit,” said Usuph. “I even thought about calling my dad to say that I couldn’t do it. But this was a chance in a lifetime so I just had to go for it.”
Her real ambitions lie in the pool, however, are completely different.
“Swimming’s really my sport,” smiled Usuph. “I would love to go to the Tokyo Olympics as a swimmer and this has shown me that I can do anything if I train hard enough.”