A Whiter Shade of Green for Taiwan’s Olympic Skiers
VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) _ The gutsy ski team from Taiwan has so little snow at home that it trains for the Winter Olympics on grass slopes - which is a lot less funny than it sounds.
″If you fall on ice, you slide. If you fall on grass, you plant. The injuries can be much greater,″ says slalom racer Tang Wei-tsu, who compares skiing on grass to intermediate-slope snow skiing.
Training for the high-speed downhill is too dangerous on grass, so none of the Taiwanese skiers entered downhill events at the Games.
″There’s slipping and side-sliding in snow skiing, but not in grass skiing,″ says Tang, 27.
″You can’t compare the two,″ says teammates Ong Ching-ming, who is in his third Winter Olympics. ″Of course it’s not as good, but there just isn’t any snow in Taiwan.″
The training restrictions put the Taiwanese in their own class of international skiers.
″We basically compete against other countries that have no snow: India, Greece, Morocco, the Philippines, Swaziland,″ says Tang.
They should be taken more seriously than that - Tang and Chen Tong-jong, 22, finished a respectable 29th and 30th in the slalom at the 1989 World Championships at Vail, Colorado. The pair earned their spots there, racking up enough International Ski Federation points to make the cut.
Skiers are scouted at Hehuanshan in central Taiwan - the near-tropical island’s only ski area, with a single, 264-foot slope that has no lift. Youngsters 10-12 years old go there for orientation; those who show promise the first day are selected for grass and overseas training.
Chen began skiing on grass when he was 16 - about three years after he started on snow. ″It’s a little different, but the control is similar,″ he says, rocking from side to side as if he were making a stem turn.
Coach Wang Chien-chih, 35, admits his own experience is limited. ″People my age haven’t had organized training,″ he says. ″We have very little training and competition experience.″ He hopes his team will finish in the top half at these Olympics.
What he’d really like is for the team to train more on snow. Chen and Ong go each year to Japan, which has excellent skiing, for one or two months to practice.
Tang, who went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and now works there as a simulation software engineer, skis in the morning during the November-March season and works at night.
Ong, newly graduated from Taipei Engineering College, chose skiing because although he’s good at other sports, he admits being an Olympian for his country is like a dream.
″Skiing makes us different,″ he says. ″There is some special treatment.″ But, he concedes, people in Taiwan don’t pay much attention to winter sports, and his goal here is simply to do his best.
Funding is a big problem - ″We’re not important like baseball,″ says Coach Wang. He won’t say what the team’s budget is, only that there isn’t much of one.
Corporations donate gear for the competitors. While the team is grateful for the sponsorship, it has its downside.
″This year we got three downhill suits. But they’re all the same size. I barely fit, and him, no way″ says Tang, gesturing at the 187-pound Ong.