SYDNEY — Figure skater Harley Windsor is set to be the first indigenous Australian to compete in the Winter Olympics after being selected for next year’s Pyeongchang Games, just a little over a decade after he stumbled into a sport he knew nothing about.
Windsor and Russian-born teenager Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya, the junior world pairs champions, secured an Olympic spot with a bronze medal in a qualifying competition in Germany in late September and were among the first four athletes to be confirmed in the Australian team on Thursday.
Brendan Kerry and Kailani Craine were selected to compete in the individual figure skating events in Pyeongchang next February.
The 21-year-old Windsor, from western Sydney, said his selection “feels like an amazing and mind-blowing accomplishment.”
“I grew up in the Aboriginal community and have always been around Aboriginal culture,” he said, “so it’s been a huge part of my life and something that I’m very proud of.”
There have been 51 indigenous Australian Summer Olympians, including Cathy Freeman, who ignited the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Games in 2000 and won gold the following week in the 400 meters.
“She was such … a great inspiration for me when I was young,” Windsor said. “I hope I can give other young indigenous athletes some inspiration that they are able to get to the highest level in winter Olympic sports just like we’ve done in summer sports.”
Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll said Windsor’s selection was historic for the Olympic movement in Australia.
“Just as Harley has stated he wants to, we hope that he provides inspiration to young indigenous athletes that they can follow in his path and compete at a high level in winter sports,” Carroll said.
Windsor fell into figure skating by accident at age 8 when his mother took a wrong turn while looking for a fast-food restaurant and mistakenly drove into the car park of a small ice rink.
Windsor asked his mother if he could take a look inside and, after persuading her to let him strap on a pair of skates, he slid onto the ice and was instantly hooked.
“I just really liked it so I asked if could come back the next week, then the next week, then the week after that,” Windsor told The Associated Press. “I didn’t think it would go anywhere but when I started to get serious, I actually started to enjoy the sport even more.
“It was hard work but because I had started to fall in love with the sport and I started improving really quickly, in some ways it wasn’t difficult because I just enjoyed it so much.”
Windsor almost quit the sport in frustration two years ago because he was unable to find the right partner in Australia, but his Russian coach suggested he go to Moscow to find a perfect match.
It was there that he was introduced to Alexandrovskaya, a classically trained pairs specialist who also was struggling to find the right partner and toying with the idea of quitting.
The pair quickly forged a good working relationship and although they train mostly in Moscow, Alexandrovskaya agreed to give up her dream of competing for Russia and applied for Australian citizenship. The 17-year-old Alexandrovskaya was granted citizenship last month.
“To be honest, at first I didn’t know it was going to go so well but the more we skated together the more we started to figure each other out,” Windsor said. “I think it works well for us because she’s a bit more fiery on the ice and I’m a bit more calm so it kind of balances out.
“We have our fights and stuff, obviously, but we mix really well and train very well and we’re both strong competitors.”
Craine will also make her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang after winning a berth in the women’s individual competition. The 19-year-old Craine, who has more than 120,000 followers on her Instagram account, has been dreaming about the Olympics since she was eight.
She went to the Olympic ice rink in Pyeongchang earlier this week but said she refused to have her picture taken with the Olympic rings until she had formally secured a place on the team.
“And now I have,” she said. “It seems so surreal. It’s all I’ve ever wanted my whole life and now it’s crazy to think it’s happening.”