Ice, ice, babies: The teen skaters going for gold at the Youth Winter Olympics

Student-athletes Amelia Chua and Ryo Ong are staying cool under pressure in Gangwon, South Korea as they prepare for their biggest competition yet.

  • 16 Jan 2024

Breaking national records and clocking personal bests is "good for tracking development," says national skater Amelia. Image: Jonas Chua

"Watching races at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on TV was so exciting, with all the overtaking and high-speed crashes. My parents were horrified at first, but I knew from that day on it was the sport I wanted to pursue,” says Amelia Chu. 

She discovered short track speed skating when she was only nine years old, not long after picking up ice skating as a hobby. A year later, she had earned a place on Singapore’s national development team.

Her fellow speed skater Ryo Ong had a similarly early start, receiving his first pair of rollerblades when he was five. He quickly discovered that nothing matched the adrenaline rush of skating on ice and has been chasing medals ever since. “They motivate me,” he says.

The two seventeen-year-olds are representing Singapore at the Gangwon 2024 Youth Winter Olympics. It is their highest-profile competition to date and for these teens, it represents half a lifetime’s worth of dedication.

Balancing textbooks and breaking barriers

Both Amelia and Ryo juggle school and their record-setting athletics careers, with a combination of e-learning and make-up lessons to keep them academically on track.

Ryo attends Singapore Sports School and has a flexible schedule that allows him time to compete. The day after taking his O levels, he flew to Busan to spend a gap year preparing for the Youth Winter Olympics under the tutelage of former Olympians. Most of his training days started at 5am.

In 2023, Ryo received a Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship to fund his training and equipment costs. Image: Isaac Ong

Shortly after qualifying, he skated in a World Cup, then moved back to Singapore to resume his studies. Despite this breakneck pace, Ryo displays a level-headedness far beyond his years: “I trust my ability to do what I need to do.”

Amelia, who participated in eight international competitions in 2023 alone, says time management is crucial.

It keeps life as stress-free as possible and helps me focus on being my best. Procrastination is not allowed.

In the leadup to the Youth Winter Olympics, Amelia trained in Nottingham and spent her first Christmas away from family in Singapore. “I was very thankful to be with the UK team and their coaches and families, so I wasn’t alone during the holiday season,” she says.

She also learned to manage a budget, keep house, and prepare Asian meals using a rice cooker she brought from home. News of her qualification was “a huge privilege and honour, as it’s always been my dream to represent Singapore on the world stage since I was a little girl.”

Amelia's Christmas "visit" to her family. Image: Amelia Chua

Game on in Gangwon

Although the Youth Winter Olympics is a new event for Amelia and Ryo, they won’t be among strangers in Gangwon. Far from it, in fact.“

Over the years I have met many athletes from all over the world,” Amelia says, “we might be competitors, but we are also friends and it’s always good to see them again.”

“We share the same passion for skating and in a weird way are growing up together in the sport,” Ryo adds. Ryo, who stayed in a 15th-century hanok the first time he visited Gangwon for a training camp, is looking forward to K-pop performances between events. But skating remains the key focus. “Given how much South Koreans love and celebrate their national skaters, I would say short track speed skating is Korea’s true national sport,” he half-jokes.

“It’s an incredible spectator sport,” agrees Amelia, “it feels intimidating to race alongside some of my idols, but I learn so much watching them up close.” 

In 2023, Ryo and Amelia competed in the ISU World Junior Short Track Championships in Dresden. Also pictured are National Short Track Coach Zhao Yanzhi and Team Leader Alicia Tan. Image: Singapore Ice Skating Association

The duo will certainly need their downtime after the Winter Youth Olympics. “Rest is very important not only for recovery, but also for us to keep hitting our growth milestones,” says Ryo, who plans to game plenty between catching up on sleep.

2024 has only just begun but it won’t be long before the two skaters hit the rink again in their continued pursuit of excellence.

“Skating means the world to me and it's hard to imagine my life without it,” says Amelia, “I have so many goals that I still want to achieve and that keeps me going.”