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06 March 2019 | in Winter FISU World University Games

Learning about winter sports – an Australian perspective

An Aussie in action in the short track speed skating men's 500m at the Sever Arena in Krasnoyarsk which was won by Konstantin Ivliev of Russia

KRANSNOYARSK – Who knew that the ‘Miracle on Ice’ was not Steven Bradbury’s famous short track speed skating gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics? It turns out that it’s actually about the Americans beating the (then) Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. Apparently it was a good game.


It makes sense that a clueless Australian would make that assertion. The frosted tips in Steven Bradbury’s hair, when he won gold, are about as close to ice as Aussies will get.


I will have to make an admission, anything below 10 degrees Celsius is considered freezing Down Under and I have never seen snow fall from the sky. Yes, I am now well aware of my vices and that’s why I am in Siberia. It’s time to learn about #realwinter and winter sports.

 Hosting the Universiade is an opportunity for the host city to showcase regional cultures and traditions

As it happens, there are other Aussies in Siberia, among them brothers and speed skaters Skyler and Josh Kah, maybe they can impart some wisdom. The siblings say that the opportunity to meet people from all over the world is what makes speed skating and winter sports so special.

“Because Australia hardly sees a winter, it’s common for winter athletes from our country to be training overseas for many months of the year,” they said. “In the 2018-19 season alone, we have visited Korea, Canada, USA, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Russia for competitions and training.”

 The potential for either ecstasy or agony at a moment's notice in short track speed skating - particularly in the relay races - makes for an attractive sport to cover for a reporter during their first winter sports foray

Generally, people who travel that much are trying to escape the cold not chase it. Barbaric. Skyler also added that he loves meeting different people on Tinder to learn about their culture and way of life. Sure Skyler, sure.


The brothers went onto to give a fellow Aussie some advice for staying warm in such ridiculous conditions. “Have a ski jacket with you at all times.”


That would have been nice to know before I got here, but I’ll take it. But what would someone who really understands winter and grew up with it tell me to do?

 Russia has been a dominating presence on the ice and snow of the 29th Winter Universiade here in Krasnoyarsk

Swedish speed skater Fabrice Dufberg Suh told me to “wear a lot of clothes, drink a lot of tea or coffee and as soon as there is a break from the competition, get away from the ice.”


Finally, something I can relate too, drinking coffee and getting away from the ice!


But if the aim is to get away from the ice, then what makes winter sport so special to Fabrice that he keeps coming back for more?


“I think [winter sports] are a lot cooler - no pun intended - than summer sports, because snow and ice is cold and hard. Summer sports you’re like sitting there in sun sipping on a Pina Colada and then just go and run something.”


I fail to see how sipping on Pina Coladas in the sun is worse then freezing yourself to death, but I’ll take his word for it.

 The smaller course of short track brought new challenges to the speed skating game, like tighter turns and shorter straightaways, which lead to different techniques in order to emerge victorious

I wanted to know what it takes to be a professional winter athlete and speed skater. “You just have to believe in yourself. It’s all in the mentality, training is for the weak ones, the mentally strong ones will prevail.


“If you are mentally strong, then for sure you will be a skater.”


You heard it here folks. Even though I’ve never skated, I’m announcing my intentions to push for selection at the next Olympics with my new coach and best friend Fabrice. All jokes aside, Australia isn’t known for its winter sport, so I asked the President of FISU, Oleg Matytsin, if he had any advice and recommendations.


“I recommend that you see with your own eyes, feel with your skin and take with your own hands everything that we have here,” he said.


Mr. Matytsin also highlighted that by being here, each Australian reporter and athlete can pave the way for future Australians in winter sports.

 A legend of another ice sport - bandy - lit the Universiade Cauldron to conclude the fastivities of the event's opening ceremonies

“Through your reports and media involvement, [it] could be interesting to open the winter sport [door] for Australian people and bring some fresh winter air from here to there.


“We welcome all Australians to come here and experience real winter.”


Now that I know how stay warm, become a famous skater and just how hospitable Russians are maybe a few Australians, or countries in similar situations, will read this and get involved with winter sports in some respects.


As for me, I’m going to get a cup of coffee and stay warm.


By FISU International Young Reporter James Oana at the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Universiade