BELLFLOWER, CA: Talk about PyeongChang 2018 has been buzzing all week long and what’s surprising is how our country, which only has the wet and dry seasons, has in fact athletes competing in the Winter Olympics.
I was able to speak with Jim Apelar, president of the Philippine Ski Federation (PSF). At the top of my head, and I’m sure a lot of you have been also wondering: how is this even possible? Where do our athletes come from? Where do they train? Are they even Filipino or at least look like one (even if this doesn’t really matter)?
He discussed a brief history of the PSF, how in 1991, Ramon Espiritu founded the group in the Philippines, eventually taking his duties offshore after deciding to relocate to Canada. Around 2007, he called for a re-election and the members of the federation collectively chose Apelar to lead the group. Today, although the PSF is yet to be affiliated with the Philippine Sports Commission, it is accredited by the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS), the world’s highest governing body for international winter sports.
I asked him how it’s like for the PSF President living in the USA, representing the Philippines, and managing athletes from all over the globe? “It’s unique,” he says, and stresses the fact how our law follows jus sanguinis, where one may obtain the citizenship of one or both parents. In a nutshell, as long as one of your parents is Filipino, you may have the capacity to be a Filipino citizen regardless of where you are born. He continues, “Once you understand that, the recruiting system of athletes, is not enclosed in the Philippines […] it is on a worldwide diaspora of Filipinos.” To answer the lingering question, these athletes are not found in our tropical home and instead, there are several Filipinos living in snow countries! Currently, the federation has six active athletes and is looking forward to expand to ten by the end of the year.
A huge thanks to technology, especially social media, the PSF could easily reach to athletes that could represent the Philippines in the international arena. Normally, the federation would keeps its eye on those who are already a part of a skiing club in their respective homes, may it be in the USA, Canada or other European countries. If and when they are able to accumulate the needed number of points to qualify for competitions wherein they could represent the Philippines, the PSF then steps in and make the necessary arrangements in order for them to wear the three stars and a sun in the global stage.
On another level, the PSF also guides its athletes throughout their career. Take the story of Asa Miller, a 17 year-old Fil-Am who has recently qualified to join the PyeongChang Olympics. He contacted the PSF early 2016 showing intentions of joining the Philippine Team. Since then, he joined five major competitions: in Canada, USA, and thrice in New Zealand, wherein he collected enough points to send him to this year’s Winter Olympics. Out of the 110 entries in PyeongChang, he was initially placed 104th. He obtained a decent ranking of 70th at the end of the competition. After seeing that out of the 69 athletes ahead of him, mostly were well-experienced skiers and only one had the same age, Apelar is confident that Miller could only get better in future tournaments. As his event concluded, Miller said in a text, “I am very proud to represent our country, and am happy to finish my race! I’m very thankful for all the support! I hope that my actions act as inspiration for others to achieve their dreams. Mabuhay!”
What’s in store for us in the future? Apelar mentions that by the 2020 Youth Olympic Games, we should be expecting another young blood in the name of Ana Wahleithner competing under our flag. At 15, she is currently enrolled in Sugar Bowl Academy, a college preparatory high school especially designed for competitive skiers based in Norden, California. And by 2022 in Beijing, the PSF is looking forward to sending four athletes for the Philippines.