By Jean Malanum

BREAKTHROUGH. Speed skater Peter Groseclose (2nd from left) is set to compete in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon, South Korea from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1, 2024. Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino on Tuesday (Jan. 16) said having three Filipinos who will compete in Gangwon Winter Youth Games is another breakthrough for Philippine sports. (PSU photo)

MANILA – Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said having three Filipinos at the 2024 Gangwon Winter Youth Games is another breakthrough for Philippine sports.

“It’s really good to see that we’re improving,” Tolentino said during a break in the POC extraordinary general assembly at the East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Parañaque City on Tuesday.

The Philippines is one of a few tropical countries which has athletes compete in the Winter Youth Olympics.

Seeing action in the Gangwon Games which will start on Friday are Fil-American speed skater Peter Groseclose, Switzerland-based freestyle skier Laetaz Amihan Rabe and Canada-based cross country skier Avery Balbanida.

The Philippines was represented by alpine skier Abel Tesfamariam and figure skater and two-time Winter Olympian Michael Martinez in the 2012 edition held in Innsbruck, Austria, while speed skater Julian Macaraeg and alpine skier Ana Noelle Wahleithner participated at the 2020 Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Philippines did not join the 2016 edition in Lillehammer, Norway.

Tolentino praised Southeast Asian nations Thailand and Singapore for also qualifying athletes for Gangwon where they will compete against Youth Olympians from 79 countries, including 17 from Asia. Thailand has 19 athletes and Singapore has two in Gangwon.

“Southeast Asian athletes are improving in winter sports and we’re happy to be part of it,” said Tolentino, the Tagaytay City mayor who also heads the cycling federation.

“It’s really a great honor for South Korea for being the first Asian country to host such a big event,” he added.

Tolentino and POC secretary-general lawyer Wharton Chan will be in Gangwon on Thursday, a day before the opening ceremony to be held simultaneously at Gangneung Oval and PyeongChang Dome.

Groseclose and his parents Tim and Victoria are already in Seoul. Rabe will arrive on Jan. 19 and Balbanida on Jan. 25.

Ada Lacia Milby is the chef de mission of Team Philippines, which also includes Philippine Skating Union (PSU) president Nikki Cheng and Philippine Ski and Snowboard Federation secretary general Jezreel Apelar.

A total of 1,900 athletes aged 15 to 18 years will compete in the Gangwon Winter YOG, which will feature a digital torch, a first in Olympic history. (PNA)