By Guo Xinhui and Chen Jiabao
BANGKOK, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- There may be no ice or snow in the tropics, but that does not stop Thailand, a Southeast Asian country, from competing in the Winter Olympic Games.
Four Thai athletes have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing and cross-country skiing races at the Games in Beijing next month.
"I'm super excited to be part of the Beijing Olympics. I've had a lot of difficulties in the previous Winter Olympics. Representing Thailand at this event has given me the opportunity to pursue my dream again, and I'll do my best," Nicola Zanon, a 25-year-old Alpine skier, told Xinhua in an interview.
Nicola will compete in the giant slalom and slalom events in alpine skiing at the Winter Olympics. Currently training in Italy, Nicola will leave for Beijing at the end of January. "The Beijing Winter Olympics means a lot to me. I hope to finish the races and get a better ranking," he said.
Nicola was born to an Italian father and a Thai mother. After failing to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he took a break from skiing and returned to work in Italy. Until 2017, invited by the Thai Skiing and Snowboarding Association, he got a chance to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics for the Southeast Asian nation.
"It's been a tough comeback for Nicola. He failed to complete the first round of the giant slalom at the 2018 Winter Olympics because he didn't have enough preparation time," said Harinat Siriwan, head coach of the Thai Ski Team.
"Since then, Nicola kept training and kept ahead of other competitors. He also had enough time to prepare for the Beijing Winter Olympics. I believe he can create a good performance," the coach told Xinhua.
Nicola's teammate Mida Fah Jaiman, starting skiing at age three, is now Thailand's top alpine skier. The 19-year-old will make her debut at the upcoming Winter Olympics in the women's giant slalom and slalom events. "I am very excited and proud to represent Thailand at the Games and my goal is to be in the top 50," said Mida.
"The biggest pressure right now is to ensure that we do not get COVID-19 during the intensive training," she said. "Every training is an important test."
According to their coach Harinat, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on athletes. It has led to the suspension of training camps and the cancellation of major events, which has deprived some athletes of valuable opportunities.
The coach said his biggest hope for both athletes was to finish the race. "Alpine skiing in the Winter Olympics is very difficult, and about 40 percent of the athletes don't finish because they slide off the course."
Thailand first participated in the Winter Olympic Games in 2002. Since then, Thai athletes had appeared in every edition of the Winter Olympic Games, with the exception of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
As a tropical country, Thailand does not have the natural conditions for most ice and snow sports, but the sports have seen rapid development in the country over the past decades.
Sueb Tarasiri, Secretary-general of the Thai Ski and Snowboard Association, said it is very difficult for Thailand to compete for medals at the Winter Olympics, and the cost for athletes to train overseas and hire coaches is very high. Due to financial constraints, it is difficult for Thai athletes to obtain professional logistics team services. However, these difficulties didn't stop athletes from loving winter sports.
"We really cherish the opportunity to participate in the Winter Olympics," Nicola said, adding that the Olympics cannot be part of any political conflicts.
"I believe the Winter Olympics will be a success. And we'll be in the Olympic bubble, in my opinion, it's the safest place in the world right now," Nicola said.