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Cool as a cucumber, as Cheyenne Goh makes Winter Olympics history

SINGAPORE — National short track speed skater Cheyenne Goh was not even born when the cult comedy, Cool Runnings, first premiered in the cinema in 1993. Howver, the story of a Jamaican national bobsleigh team that beat the odds to compete at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, later became one of her favourite films.

National short track speed skater Cheyenne Goh at a training session in Goyang, South Korea, ahead of her debut at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Photo: SNOC

National short track speed skater Cheyenne Goh at a training session in Goyang, South Korea, ahead of her debut at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Photo: SNOC

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SINGAPORE — National short track speed skater Cheyenne Goh was not even born when the cult comedy, Cool Runnings, first premiered in the cinema in 1993. However, the story of a Jamaican national bobsleigh team that beat the odds to compete at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, later became one of her favourite films.

Now 18, she will be Singapore’s sole representative when the Winter Olympic Games kicks off in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Friday (Feb 9).

It is almost unthinkable considering she was born in a tropical country with only one Olympic-sized ice rink — just like the Jamaicans in Cool Runnings. “I definitely see the relationship between the movie and I… it’s relatable because no one was expecting me to be there at the Winter Olympics,” Goh said.

“It’s a big moment for me and the biggest thing for Singapore, and to be part of a big historic moment is really cool.”

Her unlikely journey to PyeongChang began when her parents relocated to Leduc, Canada, when she was four. She had played ice hockey before making the switch to speed skating after she caught the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics on television.

Since donning national colours, she has notched a number of firsts in her brief skating career. In October 2016, she was the first Singapore athlete to compete at the Intercontinental Short Track Invitational in Calgary, before she became the first Singaporean female to compete at last year’s Asian Winter Games. She also made her South-east Asian Games debut in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last August, winning two silver medals (1,000m individual, 3,000m relay) and a bronze (500m individual).

With a spot at the PyeongChang Games then a “mathematical possibility”, Goh said, she went on to compete in the International Skating Union World Cup Short Track Speed Skating events, which were qualifying competitions for the Winter Olympic Games.

The good news arrived in November last year, when the teenager — who took a gap year from her studies at Leduc Composite High School to train full-time — learnt that she had become the first Singaporean to qualify for the Winter Olympics. She will compete in the women’s 1,500m short track speed skating event on Feb 17.

She said: “It was, and still is unexpected. It’s definitely going to feel more real when I check into the Games Village on Wednesday (Feb 7), but I’m still quite nervous and excited.”

Ahead of the Feb 9 to 25 Winter Games, Goh spent a month in Goyang, South Korea, training at a skating club there with national coach Chun Lee-kyung and her teammates. While she is based in Leduc, where winter temperatures can hit as low as minus 35°C, the stint was also for her to acclimatise to the freezing winter climate.

Talk ahead of the opening ceremony has already centred on the frigid weather conditions that athletes and about 35,000 spectators will have to endure in the open-air PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, particularly with the temperature set to dip to below 0°C on Friday.

Games organisers have since installed wind shields and heat lamps in the stadium, and volunteers will be handing out blankets and beanies to spectators.

One setback this week was a norovirus outbreak at the Games village, which saw dozens of Winter Olympics staff members being quarantined, and some 1,200 more were confined to their rooms as officials tested for the virus and disinfected all areas. The highly contagious virus causes stomach flu — which can lead to diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain — and is most commonly spread through eating contaminated food and drink, or through contact with an infected person.

Ms Tan Paey Fern, Team Singapore’s chef-de-mission (CDM) for the Winter Olympics, is confident that the Games organisers will be able to sort out all these issues ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday. “So far, everything in the Games village has been very organised,” the former national paddler said.

“There was some feedback (on the norovirus) at the CDM meeting this (Wednesday) morning. During the briefing, they told us to wash our hands regularly and maintain proper hygiene. There are also hand sanitisers everywhere and they are taking the necessary precautions.”

Team Singapore’s four-member contingent comprising Goh, Ms Tan, coach Chun, and a secretariat staff member from the Singapore National Olympic Council will also be armed with heat packs, warm clothing for the long wait ahead of the opening ceremony.

The freezing cold will not deter Goh from enjoying her debut at the world’s biggest and most prestigious winter sports Games. She said: “I’m quite sure I’ll just be in awe when I walk into the stadium, and I want to take it all in. I’m really looking forward to it.”

 

OTHER ‘COOL RUNNINGS’ ATHLETES IN PYEONGCHANG:

* Jamaica’s women’s bobsleigh team comprising pilot Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, Carrie Russell and Audra Segree will be competing — on a rented sled — 30 years after the men’s team made history in Calgary

* Nigeria’s first bobsleigh team will also be competing, with former Olympic hurdler Seun Adigun to lead the women’s team made up of former runners. The team is also a first, for men and women, for the continent of Africa.

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