Starting Them Young to grow ice skating here

Ice skating has always been a niche affair in Singapore but with the sport set to be contested at next year's SEA Games, the Singapore Ice Skating Association (Sisa) is stepping up to the challenge.

The second edition of Sisa's Inter-school Ice Skating Competition is themed Start Them Young - an attempt to open up the arena for younger athletes to experience the sport on a competitive level.

The competition, which opened with the figure skating event on Tuesday and ended with the short track speed skating races last night, saw a total of 103 competitors from 71 schools, with skaters as young as six years old taking to the ice.

It is also the first time the competition hosted Singapore's Special Olympics speed skating team, who are preparing for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria next March.

"We are trying to grow ice skating as a sport," said Toni Woo, vice-president of Sisa. "Competitions like these are good platforms to pick up potential skaters for international events like the SEA Games."

She added that most of the competitors in the inter-school competition are participants in the Learn To Skate programme - a scheme jointly run by Sisa and The Rink at J Cube, the competition venue. The programme, which began in 2013, is open to students and people of all ages.

However, ice skating is still not an official co-curricular activity (CCA), and most of the competitors at the inter-school event are registered as independents.

Said Woo, 41: "We are reaching out to more schools to set up ice skating as a CCA, and make the Learn To Skate programme a part of their CCA."

He added that Sisa hopes to get more people involved in skating by staging more competitions and providing support to advanced-level athletes.

Singapore has eight figure skaters in the senior team and four in the development team - six of them will be competing at the Aug 4-7 Asian Open in Manila.

Woo said that they have modest ambitions, as the Open will be hosting powerhouses such as Japan and South Korea. For now, they are hoping that their skaters will be able to achieve their personal-best scores at the event.

Sisa will be hosting the short track speed skating national meet on Aug 6-7 to identify new blood for the national team, which currently stands at 10-strong. But for now, Sisa is hoping to make ice skating more popular at ground level by making the inter-school competition a yearly affair.

"It's better to have a bigger pool of skaters," said Woo.

"We can then channel them (to the senior level) for them to be the best they can be."

Nicola Chew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Starting Them Young to grow ice skating here'. Print Edition | Subscribe