Before Hong Kong teen skier Arabella Ng made a historic debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, very few Hongkongers knew this subtropical city had a national alpine skiing team that competes internationally.
Arabella’s success has inspired more budding skiers from Hong Kong, who live outside of the city like the Canada-based Olympian, to keep an eye out for opportunities to represent the city in elite sports events.
One of them is Miguel Almirall Perez, who was born in Hong Kong but shortly moved to Spain, after he and his younger brother were adopted by a Spanish couple.
The 16-year-old has dual citizenship, which means he is eligible to join Hong Kong’s national alpine skiing team. The teenager sailed through a selection trial eight months ago, and is ready to take on his first major games – the Winter Youth Olympic Games to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month.
“I’m really proud to be able to represent my birthplace in the Youth Olympics,” Miguel says.
“Although I only visit Hong Kong during the summer holiday, I see it as my second home.”
The teenage skier notes it was rather confusing for his family and friends when he first became a member of the Hong Kong national team.
Miguel’s schoolmates, who knew he had been skiing since the age of five, thought the prodigy had made it onto the Spanish national team instead.
“When I first told my friends I was a national team skier, their initial reaction was ‘Excuse me, the Spanish team?’,” says Miguel, laughing.
Jokes aside, the teenager says he is very grateful for the unexpected opportunities that have come with his dual citizenship. He says it’s as if a “door that has been opened” for him to advance in his skiing career.
“Making the Spanish team is a lot harder ... I currently have the chance to go to top-tier international competitions, so I am just thankful for that,” he says.
To prepare for the upcoming Games, Miguel has spared no effort in training. In addition to skiing down snowy tops for 10 hours every weekend, he spends at least eight hours at the gym on weekdays to make sure he is physically fit to conquer the slopes.
The Hongkonger is also striving to up his mental game. He explains that skiing requires total concentration, as athletes can get injured easily if they don’t pay enough attention to their surroundings.
For Miguel, the sport is also about pushing through personal limits. He says the only thing that matters to him is his finishing time, not the final position he gets.
“The sport is really a race against yourself. If my time is slower than before, even if I come in first pace, there is nothing to celebrate,” says Miguel.
To help him clear his head before a race, Miguel’s coach asks him to “disconnect”, stop thinking about anything, and just go full speed ahead.
Not unlike many other secondary student athletes in Hong Kong, Miguel has been struggling to juggle his sport and academic study. Although student life is less stressful in Spain, and the country also has schools that cater for young elite athletes, the long hours of training and always being away for overseas competitions still add a lot of weight on Miguel’s shoulders.
“Sometimes I feel so stressed that I have to skip some of my training. Like other teenagers, I want to relax and do nothing, but there is no time for that,” he says.
Luckily, Miguel’s school is doing the best it can to make his life easier, like rearranging his tests and exams to accommodate his hectic schedule, and providing more assistance to help him catch up with the class.
Miguel will graduate from secondary school in two year’s time. With his outstanding sporting profile, numerous universities in the United States are ready to open their arms to this future skiing star with a four-year scholarship.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure what subject I want to pursue, but the US has a better tertiary education system than Spain, that’s why I want to study there,” he says.
Looking beyond the Winter Youth Olympics next month, which will be his first taste of competing in a multi-sports games, Miguel has set his sights on making the senior competition to be held in Beijing, China, in 2022.
“I want to go to the 2022 Olympics. It’s still a long way to go, but I think I have time to get there.”