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Malaysia makes historic debut in alpine skiing

22 Feb 2017
Sapporo, Japan, February 22, 2017: An idea that started out as a family joke has suddenly become a reality for one of Asia’s newest and most unlikely ski teams. For the first time, the tropical Southeast Asian country of Malaysia is competing in alpine skiing at the 8th Asian Winter Games, represented by two young men who ended up sharing the same ambitious dream.

Othman Mirzan, the grandson of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, came up with the idea of starting a Malaysian Ski Federation and after getting it up and running, Jeffrey Webb, a Malaysian-born teenager based in the United States, got wind of it and joined the team. The pair both made their debuts at the 8th Asian Winter Games on Wednesday with Ortham finishing 24th in the men’s giant slalom and Webb placing 14th.
“In Malaysia right now, football and badminton are the main sports, but we’re really hoping to show people to look beyond that and consider other options,” Mirzan said. “So we’re working at ways to make it more affordable for Malaysians to go to Winter sports and if we can do that we can tap into the larger plethora of athletes available in Malaysia and identify traits that may be useful to ski racing and just give them another option.”

Mirzan, 22, came up with the idea of starting the federation when he was just a teenager after falling in love with skiing during family holidays. “It started as a joke, my siblings and I all skied together and the running joke was always that we were theMalaysian ski team because we’re the only Malaysians people see skiing,” he said.

“From that, the idea kind of grew. It started out as let’s see if this is viable and then we figured out it was viable we had to see what it takes and then at the end of the day it was just putting in the sweat and the tears to make sure that happened. “There’s a lot of rings you have you have to jump through.

I was 17 at the time and no one takes a 17 year old seriously when they are trying to start a national association but the Malaysian Olympic Committee were very enthusiastic and after about a year and a half in limbo, things started to happen and here we are.”

Webb, 18, was born in Kuala Lumpur to a Malaysian mother and American father. He lives and trains in Washington State but spends three months of the year in Malaysia. He learnt to ski at a young age and was racing competitively by the time he was eight but the thought of representing Malaysia never entered his mind until just recently.

“He used to do camps with Lindsay Vonn’s coach and he implanted the thought that one day he could race for Malaysia,” Webb’s father Steve explained. “But we never really took it seriously until he was about 16 and I saw in a magazine that Malaysia had joined the International Ski Federation.

“So we contacted the Malaysian Minister of Sport and he said come in and talk and so we did. It was perfect timing really.” Mirzan, who studies at the University of Colorado, soon met up with Webb and the pair began hatching their plans to put Malaysia on the world skiing map with a seven year action plan.

Mirzan became the first Malaysian to compete at the alpine skiing world championships when he raced at St Moritz last week and together with Webb they have set their sights on the Olympics. “It’s pretty neat that a small country like Malaysia can compete against these bigger countries and this has been a great experience,” Webb said.

“I would love to go to the Olympics one day but i just wouldn’t want to go just for the sake of going. Ii would love to go and compete up there with everyone else and pull off a big result for Malaysia.”
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