Stories of sacrifice abound among Olympians, but Taiwanese luger Lien Te-an has quite literally taken the hard road to get to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
With little snow in his steamy homeland and no proper luge tracks to speak of, Lien speeds down mountain highways in Yilan County on a wheeled sled when not training on the ice abroad.
Reaching speeds of 105kph, it can be a white-knuckle ride for Lien, but also quite startling for car and truck drivers when the 23-year-old whizzes past them while lying supine on his sled.
“We take off the steels [blades] and put on the wheels and we can train everywhere in Taiwan,” he told reporters yesterday at the Pyeongchang Athletes’ Village.
“The cars will often stop to take a look at what’s going on. When we’re training, we organize people to do some traffic management to make it safer. There will be people along the road up and down the mountains using walkie-talkies,” he said.
Competing in his second Olympics, Lien is to carry Taiwan’s flag at tomorrow’s opening ceremony, leading a tiny delegation of four athletes, three of them speed skaters.
Few of his compatriots back home had much clue about luge, or many of the other winter sports, Lien said, but he is determined to raise their profile while improving on his 39th placing at the Sochi Games in Russia.
“This time I got more experience because in 2014, in Sochi, it was my first time in the Olympic Games and I was so really nervous,” Lien said. “But this time I spent four years to get more confidence, to get more experience and also courage.”
His heart swelled with pride yesterday during Taiwan’s welcoming ceremony at the Athletes’ Village, but overnight he was frantically calling his mother in the wake of an earthquake that struck near her hometown in Hualien County late on Tuesday.
“When it happened I quickly gave my mum a call and everything is okay with her, but I was really nervous,” he said.
Taiwanese parents can be quite protective of their children and naturally wary about them taking up extreme sports, but Lien has had the full support of his parents.
He puts it down to his heritage as an Atayal.
Before modern times, Atayal were fierce warriors who would award their men facial tattoos when they claimed the head of an enemy.
“My family’s pretty open-minded about things... We are quite a different culture,” said Lien, who is a student at a sports university on the outskirts of Taipei.
“It is fair to say that we are a carefree people and we are not scared of anything. We have more courage and we want to try everything. We believe that we can do anything,” he said.
Bringing home a medal rather than a head from Pyeongchang would surely be worthy of an honorary tattoo, but Lien just hopes to crack the top 10 and inspire a few more Taiwanese to strive for a Winter Games.
The opening runs of the men’s singles in the luge event start on Saturday at the Olympic Sliding Centre.
“It will be a bit tough for him to get a medal, but I think if he just gets a personal best here and finishes the best luger from Asia, I do not think that will be too hard for him,” Lien’s coach Chin Hao-ching said.
“He is already an inspiration,” Cina added.
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