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With our sunny climate, South Africa is not really associated with winter sports like skiing, luge, bobsleigh or ice skating. The last time a South African qualified for the Winter Olympics was as far back as 1998. It was the same year that Jamaica – also an unlikely country for winter sports – sent a bobsleigh team for the first time to winter Olympics. But now there’s a 15-year old South African hoping to represent her country at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in ice skating. Gian Quen-Isaacs qualified for her first SA Nationals as a junior 7 years ago and became the national junior champion in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns kept her off the ice for a couple of months, but she is back in training. The teenager told BizNews of her gruelling training regime that starts before sunrise every morning and what prompted her interest in ice skating. – Linda van Tilburg
Initially interested in ice hockey, a coach of a team she was trying out for told her mother that he thought Quen-Isaacs had the potential to become a figure skater and referred the teen to her current coach, Megan Allely. She says the reason why she managed to rise through the ranks and competitions of junior ice skating in the country – which led to her becoming the national junior champion in 2019 – was ‘hard work, day in and day out. I think I have the dedication and a passion for the sport. I train every day, [all] day.’
On a typical day, Gian gets up at 5am to train and does so until 7 am.
There would be school work and then ‘I’m on the ice again at 1 pm until 2 pm. Then we’re off ice to do a little bit of schoolwork – as much as I can fit in.’ By 5 pm, she is back on the ice again.
Going for a quad jump, she describes it as ‘basically lifting yourself into the air, rotating four times and then landing on your right leg as strong as possible’. She says falling on the ice happens but her mother, Letitia, has instilled in her from a young age, ‘that’s how we learn’. Her mother has always been there for her, supporting her in everything she does. ‘I think the reason I am where I am in life is because of my mom. She’s helped me through everything.’
She describes ice skating as a Cinderella sport in South Africa. ‘It’s quite difficult to get sponsorship or support for my sport because I’m an individual athlete. The skaters family pays to go to the competitions for the skater and the coach’, which she says is difficult because she comes from a single parent family. ‘The South African Figure Skating Association helps where they can.’ Her grandmother and uncle also provide help in funding.
Quen-Isaacs is not interested in finding a partner to skate with. ‘I don’t really trust many people lifting me in the air like the others do. That’s for me is just too dangerous.’ There is one Olympic champion that she sees as a role model and it is Yuzuru Hanyu, a Japanese Olympic champion whose confidence she admires. ‘Not only because he is a two-time Olympic champion, but because he has an amazing work ethic. He is so confident in himself, but also such a humble person. I’ve met him and he’s so sweet.’
There aren’t many options in South Africa when it comes to ice skating rinks. There are only eight in the country. ‘We only have one in the Western Cape, so that would be Grand West Entertainment’, making South Africa a less than ideal place for an aspiring young figure skater. Quen-Isaacs says ice skating is her life and that it would be nice to live in a country where ice skating is more accessible. ‘If there is one place where I would like to be, it would be Canada. The environment in which we train is just amazing.’
She has competed in many overseas events. Her first international trip was to Croatia. In the same year, she won a gold medal at the Santa Claus Cup in Budapest and has also competed in the Junior Grand Prix in Poland. To qualify for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, Quen-Isaacs has to skate in an international competition. All international figure skating competitions have been cancelled for the 2021 season due to the coronavirus pandemic – including the Junior World Figure Skating Championship where she was hoping to qualify.
‘We do hope that there will be an international competition that would enable me to qualify for the Olympics and am hoping that they don’t cancel the Beijing 2022 as well.’
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