In subtropical Taiwan, two women vie for spots at Beijing Winter Games
By Ann Wang and Fabian Hamacher
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Over the past six years, Taiwanese luger Li Sin-rong has sped down sloping roads and mountain highways on her duct-taped green sled - using wheels, not blades - in hopes of securing a place at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Winter athletes on the subtropical island often travel to training facilities abroad, but COVID-19 restrictions have limited the amount of time Li, 23, and 19-year-old alpine skier Lee Win-yi, have been able to practice on ice and snow.
The two women have instead relied heavily on alternative training arrangements in Taiwan as they prepared for qualifying competitions.
"From the start, we knew it would be very hard to stand on the awards podium. We just want to stand on the starting platform," Lee said. "Most athletes are charging towards first place, but we just want a spot."
Lee grew up in a skiing family. Her father, Ader, was one of Taiwan's few professional skiers, but missed his chance to compete in the Olympics because of mandatory military service. He now runs an indoor ski training centre, where his daughter trains on machines that simulate ski runs.
"For Taiwan's skiing circle, attending the Winter Olympics has been a long-held hope. It has already been 30 years," Ader said, referring to the last Taiwanese skier to compete in the Olympics. "So everyone is forging ahead in this direction."
Li won't find out whether she qualifies for Beijing until late December at the earliest, and Lee not until mid-January. At the last Winter Games in 2018, Taiwan only sent four athletes, who won no medals.
Indeed, Taiwan, where snow brushes only the highest mountaintops during the coldest winters, has never won a medal at the Winter Olympics.
If Lee and Li compete, they would be on the "Chinese Taipei" team at the insistence of Beijing, which sees democratically governed Taiwan as part of "one China".
Taiwan's best Olympic performance - in August in Tokyo - revived an old debate over whether the island should compete under the name "Taiwan" and saw a surge in pride at being Taiwanese.
Although neither athlete wanted to talk directly about the issue, they both said they are proud to represent their homeland.
"I really hope to let the world see Taiwan," Li said.
(Reporting by Ann Wang and Fabian Hamacher; Writing by Sarah Wu. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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