Taipei 9am. Outside temperature: 27 degrees Celsius. People are mingling around the Taipei Arena in summer clothing drinking iced-coffee, as the tropical sun burns down from above. Inside, Joy Chang (張瓊文) has just skated off the ice after a grueling three-hour practice. The disparity between the sport taking place on the ice and the temperature outside is not lost on the other skaters who are changing out of shorts and t-shirts and into winter clothing to warm up for the Junior Grand Prix figure skating competition being held this weekend.
Over 200 skaters, coaches and judges from 19 nations will participate in the men, ladies, pairs and ice dancing competitions. Though individuals from Taiwan have competed in international competitions before, this is the first time that Taiwan will host an event of this stature.
Organized by the Chinese Taipei Skating Union under the authorization of the International Skating Union (ISU), this competition follows on the heels of the hugely successful Skate Asia 2004 competition, also held in Taipei, which saw 235 skaters from Taiwan compete against 425 skaters from five other countries.
Taiwan's roster of skaters for the Junior Grand Prix in the ladies competition includes Chang, Colleen Burkhead, and Jennie Lee (李國婕). The junior men's competition will only see one competitor, Tien Hung-wen (田宏文), who will be competing against some strong skaters from the US and Russia. The junior pairs will see the return of the brother-sister duo of Amanda Yang (楊雪芬) and Darryll Yang (楊周宏), who are flying in from California for the event. Taiwan will not be represented in the ice dance category.
Still in its infancy in Taiwan, there is no established figure skating team. The facilities in Taiwan are limited to two rinks, of which only the Taipei Arena has internationally standard ice facilities.
Taiwan has gained a lot of domestic support and international attention for sports such as taekwondo and archery, which are beginning to establish a solid tradition and infrastructure. However, for a country that hasn't even seen a qualifier for figure skating at the Olympics, let alone a medal, it's hardly surprising that many people on the island aren't that interested in the sport.
“We've had this ice rink for only a few years, so we don't have an ice-skating culture yet,” Chang said, who was a ballet and modern dancer before turning to figure skating.
Because the rink has only been around for a few years, a skating craze has yet to catch on in Taiwan. Yet, according to Rich Lee, secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Skating Union, the addition of the Taipei Arena to the city has done much to advance the profile of skating on the island, as Taiwan is now able to host international skating competitions.
“We promote skating in Taiwan by holding competitions such as this one right now and the 2004 Skating championships,” Lee said.
He added that this raises awareness of the sport causing young people to become more interested in figure skating. The Skating Union is also at the forefront in developing summer camps to encourage younger people to pick up the sport.
With only one professional-level rink in Taiwan, practicing is quite difficult, as figure skaters have to compete for ice time with other ice sports such as hockey.
“Right now, I've been given more ice time because of the Grand Prix, but during the rest of the year it's quite difficult to practice for longer than two hours,” Chang said.