PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - A wrong turn on a drive through western Sydney led a nine-year-old Harley Windsor to an ice rink and over a decade later, the figure skater will become Australia’s first indigenous Winter Olympian at the Pyeongchang Games.
Raised in a family with eight half-siblings, Windsor will compete in the pairs event as part of an unlikely partnership with Russia-born 18-year-old Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya, who became a naturalized Australian last year.
Australia has been represented by over 50 indigenous Olympians at the summer Games but Windsor will be the first to break the ice at the winter showpiece despite the nation making its debut at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games.
Windsor’s qualification has generated huge attention in his homeland and during Friday’s opening ceremony, he will march in the front row of Australia’s delegation with chef de mission Ian Chesterman and four-times Olympian snowboarder Holly Crawford.
“It’s absolutely an honour to be able to do that, a little bit of a shock to me that I got chosen,” Windsor told reporters at the Alpensia resort in Pyeongchang on Thursday.
“It’s all really overwhelming at the moment but hopefully I can soak it in.
“I hope I can encourage a lot more indigenous kids to move toward winter sports. There’s too many in summer sports,” he joked.
“I really want to sort of be a, I guess, a role model to just encourage other people that it is possible to do these things ... I’ve shown that’s it’s not easy but it’s definitely do-able.”
Both Windsor’s parents have ancestry from different Aboriginal tribes, his mother Josie having grown up in a camp without power or running water in rural New South Wales.
Windsor grew up performing Aboriginal dances in the backyard of his suburban home in the outer suburbs of western Sydney.
The 21-year-old’s first trip to an ice rink was accidental, when his mum got lost while driving and pulled into the car-park of a local McDonald’s restaurant to get her bearings.
The ice rink was across the road and Windsor was hooked from his first visit.
His mother worked multiple jobs to finance his son’s Olympic dream, with Russian coaches providing the technical impetus.
Despite some language difficulties, Windsor’s partnership with Alexandrovskaya has flourished and the pair won the world junior championship in Taiwan last year.
Windsor remembers watching Aboriginal Cathy Freeman win the 400 meters gold at the Sydney Games, a watershed moment in the country’s Olympic history.
“The 2000 Olympics, I was four-years-old and can remember seeing her on the TV and thinking ‘the Olympic Games, it’s such a huge thing,’” he said.
“Her being indigenous is a big inspiration for me as well.
“In terms of my aboriginal heritage, I’ve always embraced it.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty