Cover Audrey King will compete in the ski slalom event for Hong Kong. (Photo: Ski Association of Hong Kong)

The 18-year-old skier will compete for her home city after coming back from injury

Olympic event: alpine skiing—slalom

Audrey King first tried skiing as a toddler, but grew up with gymnastics as her main sport. After instructors told her parents she had promise, she joined the Hong Kong ski team aged 13, began racing a year later, and was soon taking the sport seriously, taking months out of school to train and spending Christmas breaks on the slopes. This will be a year to remember for King: as well as competing in Beijing, she will start at Harvard University in the autumn. She comes from a family of ski enthusiasts: her father, Stephen King, owns the Hong Kong ski simulation centre SkiTech, which has given homegrown skiers a place to maintain their technique while travelling to real snow slopes was off-limits.

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Here, she reveals her road to Beijing 2022.

Note: On January 31, King tested positive for Covid-19 after landing in Beijing from Bosnia. As it stands, if she tests negative in time, King will still be able to compete in the women’s slalom event scheduled for February 9.

Could you describe how you’re feeling and what lies ahead for you?
It’s a mixture of excitement and exhaustion, because I’ve pretty much been racing nonstop since October. I qualified for slalom. And then there’ll be a couple of giant slalom races coming up. So we’ll see how I do in them and so the plan is just to kind of train and race, kind of what we’ve been doing for the past two months or so, up to the games, and then I think we’ll leave for Beijing around the 20th. Yes. Up till then it’ll just be training and racing.

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After Hong Kong’s success at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, how do you feel going into the Winter Games?
It’s been so wonderful seeing so many people rally behind our Olympians. During the summer I wasn’t in Hong Kong because I was abroad training but just seeing the videos of everyone supporting the athletes was amazing, and I’ve always been a huge lover sports ever since I was really little so seeing people share that passion because I think sports really is something that unites so many people you from so many different backgrounds, and seeing that kind of excitement build, it’s been really amazing.

And I think especially, I guess, in the scope of winter sports, where not a lot of people are exposed to a lot of different winter sports, especially in Hong Kong. So I think just as representatives, it’s going to be really great to open a whole new world for young people to see and have the chance to develop an interest in these areas. Because I guess growing up until Arabella competed in the last Olympics, I never really knew what was possible or what could be done. So I think it would be really wonderful if some young girl that grew up in Hong Kong could see kind of the possibilities of winter sport, and that it is possible to grow up in Hong Kong and still participate at a competitive level.

So where did your love for skiing start?
I started skiing when I was three years old but it was always a kind of a holiday hobby. My main sport was actually gymnastics, and I dedicated a lot of my time to that growing up. Skiing was always something that I really enjoyed on the sidelines, but I never really competed. I had instructors along the way tell me I had potential in the sport, but I never really wanted to do it competitively. I joined the Hong Kong ski team when I was 13, but it wasn’t really that established back then. I did my first race when I was 14. And that’s where it all started. When I was 15, I started taking it pretty seriously: I would take around three months off school every year to just go and travel abroad and train as well as dedicate my school holidays to the sport.

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Was the Winter Olympics something that you’ve been training for for a long time?
Prior to this year, I had no idea because I started in the sport pretty late compared to my competitors and people who grew up in the Alps skiing all winter long since they were like eight years old. So I didn’t really go into the sport with much expectation, but I guess, I always like to put whatever I have into whatever it is I’m doing. When I was 15, I was moving up through the rankings, but I mainly just focused on competing against myself. That was always my goal: just to improve. And then it wasn’t until the end of last season. And people would always talk about the Olympics. It was always just a distant goal until the end of last season. I was in Montenegro. And I finished third in my race my score, like 10 points for the time. And so I thought it was it started to register that this is possible. So heading into this year, after I decided I want to take gap year, the Olympics started to become my goal, more and more. This year, it was when it really said that it was a genuine possibility it could possibly happen.

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How did the qualifying race go?
I’d done so well in previous races that I didn’t have to do much. I knew my ability was there; I just need to finish my runs, but it’s pretty common in skiing to not finish. So I skied my first run, and it was pretty good. I was only a second out. And then I was at the top for my second round. And I could not talk to anyone all day. I was so nervous. And my coach kind of just left me alone that day because he knew I was just in my zone. And then at the top, we both knew what I needed to do. I didn’t need to do anything special to make it down. Then halfway through the run, I almost went out of the course, which was terrifying. Then I finally crossed the finish line. As I was watching the next girl go down, I was biting my nails. When they told me I’d done it, I just collapsed, completely dead. And then I started tearing up because it’s just been such a long year with injuries and everything. And then I looked up and my coach had just come out but he didn’t know what happened. And then he looked at me and I looked back at him and nodded my head and I ran up to him and he picked me up, swung me around and then he got a little emotional too, and then the other girls saw me crying so then they were all crying and we were this whole big mess. But anyway, that was the day.

At the height of the pandemic, when you weren’t on snow, how were you training?
A lot of it was honestly mental preparation. I knew there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. And the world kind of stood still. A lot of my competitors weren’t on snow either so in a way I didn’t feel that alone at all, but I just focused on dryland training in Hong Kong and the things that I could do rather than the things that I couldn’t.

Would you use the facilities at SkiTech during that time?
Yeah, so that was kind of one semblance of like, how I could simulate what I would be feeling on snow. And it was really helpful because I think the movements that you make when you’re skiing are really hard to replicate. But SkiTech really kind of takes that and puts it in a more realistic setting for us. It’s kind of a treadmill for skiing.

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How do you train off the slopes?
We had a period where we were doing like two training sessions a day and then we’d be lifting three times a week and on the track two times a week. So it’s a lot of like muscular endurance and kind of short bursts of energy for around a minute or so as that’s how long a race course is.

This will be a historic Winter Olympics for Hong Kong. What has contributed to this?
One factor is Arabella Ng. Watching her compete at the last games made [the city see] that this was very possible. It really started a move towards being more competitive in the sport. And we got a full time coach, Marco Rudic. He has played a huge role in kind of getting us prepared and excited for the games. He put us in a position where we could see that this was a goal, and we could see somebody from a similar background. Granted, Arabella did study abroad, but she’s still from Hong Kong and seeing that was was pretty amazing and motivating.

Which athletes have inspired you and why?
Arabella was a big inspiration. But especially recently, there has been a huge move towards getting more exposure to women's sports and kind of seeing our role within the athletic community. So a lot of girls from a lot of different sports inspire me. I really love watching the surfers, They’re amazing to watch just how free they are with their sports. I grew up in the gymnastics world, watching everyone from Suni Lee to Simone Biles: these amazing, incredible sportswomen taking their sport to the highest level. It’s all been super inspiring.

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What kind of impact would you like your Olympic appearance to have on Hong Kong?
I would love it if more girls saw the possibilities in winter sports and more people got involved with the sport of ski racing. Because I think there’s such a big audience, like so many people just go on ski holidays in Hong Kong. So I feel like this could open a lot of doors for people to see kind of a whole new world within the sport of skiing. And hopefully in the future, there’ll be an even bigger Olympic team that could represent Hong Kong.

What are your plans for after the games?
I think I’ll probably finish the season off in Europe after the games, and then that would probably end around March or early April, and then I’ll probably just chill out a little bit. I got in early to Harvard last December. After that, I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to take a gap year and then in the summer I solidified that decision. And so I’ll be heading to Harvard in the fall.

It will be an unconventional games. Does that add an extra layer of nerves to the competition?
For sure. However, since there won’t be many spectators there, I think it’ll be more similar to the regular races we do. So it might even be helpful; we’ll see how it goes. I’m just focusing on things that I can control. And I’ll just try to enjoy the experience as much as I can when I’m over there.

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