If the Philippines were sending a field hockey team to the 2018 Winter Olympics, Filipinos most likely would be shocked because this sport is played on grass, not ice.
But if the country were fielding an ice hockey squad to the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, this February, basketball-crazy Pinoys perhaps would only be pleasantly shocked because this game is to be contested there—on ice, of course.
Twenty-nine Filipinos, in fact, will fly to Sapporo as Team Philippines composed of four figure skaters, led by Michael Martinez, and the 23-man ice hockey team to join powerhouses Japan, China and the two Koreas and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to name two countries that were former Soviet republics.
Martinez became the first figure skater from Southeast Asia to qualify for a slot in the Winter Olympics, achieving the milestone at the Sochi edition of the Games and acquitting himself well by finishing 19th among 30 entries.
Expectedly, the Philippine ice hockey team in next month’s Asian Winter Games is led by hyphenated Filipinos, partly because the sport is as Western as it could get, but there are homegrown Pinoys in the team.
Ahead of the Sapporo Games, the Filipinos will have already scored a first by being the first Southeast Asian team to compete in a Winter Olympiad.
They will also take part in this year’s Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, if the 2017 host of the biennial regional tournament includes ice hockey—as it had announced—in the calendar.
The Philippine team to Sapporo is riding high on recent international results against Macau (10-0) and Oman (9-0), which is fielding a squad in the February Winter Games even if it is drier than the Philippines.
Geography no longer seems to be a handicap for tropical or desert countries to try their luck in sports being played competitively in the temperate countries, ice hockey and bobsledding being just two of them,
Jamaican bobsledders did it in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and two more, in 2002 (Salt Lake City, Utah) and 2014 (Sochi, Russia).
Of course, the Jamaican Olympians expected to win but they did not, partly because their rivals were born to the game.
Canadians, for example, to whom ice hockey is religion, seem to carry a hockey stick when they are born and they have Olympic and World titles to show for it.
The Philippines, for now, has broken ground in ice hockey and that, we think, should already count as a bronze medal.