PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - When Aboriginal figure skater Harley Windsor takes to the ice at the Pyeongchang Olympics next week, he will hope to deliver a performance that can inspire indigenous Australians and also silence the racists who have questioned his identity.
His nation’s first indigenous Winter Olympian, the 21-year-old trailblazer will debut in the pairs event with Russia-born partner Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Wednesday and will be keen to make a gesture to mark the occasion.
“I’d like to get the Aboriginal flag and, if I’m allowed, to take it into the ‘kiss and cry’ with me, but we’ll have to see how that goes, there’s a lot of political stuff involved,” Windsor told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.
The ‘kiss and cry’, where skaters sit after their routines, is so named due to the emotional scenes that inevitably follow when scores are announced.
Good scores often lead to kisses and hugs with coaches, while bad ones can trigger unabashed weeping.
In full glare of the cameras, it is a powerful place to make a statement.
While the Aboriginal flag of red, yellow and black is recognized officially in Australia, Windsor could risk the ire of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which frowns on athletes making acts of “propaganda” at the Games.
Raised with eight half-siblings in Rooty Hill, a hard-scrabble suburb in Sydney’s outer west, Windsor is no political firebrand but he is proud of his Aboriginal ancestry which derives from both sides of his family.
Australia likes to think of itself as a beacon of tolerance but Windsor has had to deal with casual racism and taunts over the fairness of his skin.
“The biggest part would be appearance-wise, a lot of comments about ‘he’s not Aboriginal, he doesn’t look (that way)... blah blah blah’,” he said.
”But it’s not all about the look. Obviously I’m quite fair skinned. But just because I’m not dark skinned, it doesn’t mean I’m not Aboriginal and don’t embrace my heritage.
”I know who I am, I know how I’ve grown up, I’ve always been a part of it, I can’t let anyone else tell me otherwise.
“I think some people, they know who they are, I guess, but they can sort of see me now and think ‘Oh wow, he proved us wrong’.”
There are some 700,000 Aborigines in a population of 23 million in Australia and their ancestors date back about 50,000 years before British colonisers arrived.
They suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and imprisonment.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in cities on Australia Day on Jan. 26, the country’s national holiday, to protest against the celebration of the start of white colonisation and persecution of Aboriginals 230 years ago.
Windsor said he was well aware of Aboriginal discontent but also very much focused on his Olympic preparations with Alexandrovskaya, with whom he shared a junior world title in Taiwan last year.
“I think both of us are just taking it one step at a time,” he said.
“We’re trying not to think about the big picture too much because then it could make us lose focus.”
Editing by Clare Fallon