Hubert Burda Media

Princesses on Ice

Actually, “athletes” would be a more accurate description of short track speed skaters ANJA and NADJA CHONG. Low Shi Ping gets breathless just listening to the sisters talk about their well-loved sport

For those who live in the tropics, ice skating is probably one of the last activities that you’d expect its inhabitants to be proficient in. But for a pair of teenage sisters, it’s something they’ve been seriously committed to since their childhood days — so much so that they’ve gone on to win competitions at a global level.
At the inaugural International Skating Union World Development Trophy for short track speed skating, staged in Singapore in April this year, Anja and Nadja Chong were each placed second overall in their respective divisions. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Nadja, the younger of the two at just 13 years old, has been ranked overall number one for the past two years at the Singapore National Short Track Speed Skating Championships; 19-year-old Anja has participated in six competitions since 2010 and is currently the top short track speed skater in Southeast Asia.
Commonly overshadowed by the more popular figure skating, short track is its lesser known cousin (at least in this part of the world) and also a Winter Olympics event where between four and six athletes race on an oval rink over distances of 500m, 1km or 1.5km. “It’s like sprinting on the ice but in a squat so your body is bent in half — very similar to the biking position,” explains Nadja.
To say it is action-packed would be an understatement as individual speeds can reach as high as 70km/h as they shoot over the ice towards the finishing line, trying to dodge fellow competitors and anticipating what each other will do — all while trying not to crash.
Anja admits she is responsible for getting Nadja and her so involved in ice skating. At nine, she attended a friend’s birthday party at the Kallang Leisure Park skating rink: “I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t like that all my friends were better than me.”
Five skating lessons later, which her mother very kindly paid for, she was hooked: “I didn’t really stop after that. I just decided to do the whole haul.” Chirps Nadja: “She has a really competitive nature. It’s just in her blood.”
Anja spent the seven years after learning the ropes of figure skating, honing her skills so well she remained on the Singapore National Team from 2005 to 2010. She went on to become the first sportswoman to win an international figure skating medal for Singapore, and a bronze at the Asian Junior Figure Skating Challenge in Thailand in 2009. Her enthusiasm for the sport meant she also trained to be a coach and is qualified to judge at competitions.
Eager to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Nadja also took up figure skating at three-years-old, though more as a hobby than competitively. It was she, however, who started short track speed skating when the sport was introduced to Singapore about two years ago.
By then, Anja had already exited the world of figure skating: “I just didn’t find the environment very positive.” Influenced by her younger sister to try out short track, she has since never turned back. “The adrenaline and speed is addictive, as is being able to compete against each other, which figure skating never had.”
Keeping themselves physically fit to compete is no mean feat. As part of the Singapore National Development Team, Nadja trains with its coach Sun Dan Dan — herself a two-time Winter Olympic silver medalist with Team China — twice a week.
Anja, who is currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Nottingham in the UK, dedicates at least two days a week to working out. “I picked the university because that’s where the British short track team trains,” she says, reflecting just how serious she is about the sport.
The regime includes an hour on the rink, with another two hours off the ice doing exercises, such as squats that can number in the hundreds, toning, cycling and stamina.
The sisters are currently preparing for a series of competitions happening at the end of the year. Anja is gunning for the University Games in Italy at the end of the year while Nadja has her eye on the Asian Short Track Trophy in Hong Kong this September.
It definitely looks like the heat is on for these two but we can be sure they’ll be ice-cool about it.