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Tropical Philippines has only one entrant in the Winter Olympics


There are 19 countries that have only one athlete competing in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. One of those countries is the Philippines, represented by 21-year-old Asa Miller, who was actually born in the U.S. And this weekend, he'll compete in his first event, the giant slalom. As Ashley Westerman reports from Manila, Miller's background highlights a story familiar for many Filipino Americans - one of taking chances and then waiting to reconnect with your roots.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Like most things in the Philippines, a similar story is all about family.

POLLYANNA BISQUERA: My full name is Pollyanna Bisquera. I am Asa Miller's mom.

WESTERMAN: Bisquera grew up in Santa Cruz, one of the many smaller cities that make up the sprawling Manila capital region.

BISQUERA: I do have a pretty big family and extended family there. My mother actually still lives there.

WESTERMAN: Bisquera left the Philippines in 1981. Her family's reasons for leaving will sound familiar to those who have made the same journey to the U.S. They just wanted better opportunities. The U.S. boasts the largest Filipino diaspora in the world. In 1999, Bisquera married, and Asa was born the next year. By 19 months old, Asa was already on the slopes in Oregon.

BISQUERA: A lot of it in the earlier years, he just liked being in the snow and skiing. And the racing portion of it happened maybe when he was more towards 10, 11.

WESTERMAN: Meanwhile, a 2003 change in Philippine law allowed Bisquera and her children to become dual U.S.-Philippine citizens. That allowed Asa to compete for the Philippines, a tropical island nation where it has never snowed before. And in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, he became the Philippines' first Olympic alpine skier in over 20 years.

BISQUERA: I think him representing the Philippines kind of gave him a stronger motivation to really know what the country's all about.

WESTERMAN: Athletes choose to compete for countries they weren't born in but have citizenship with for various reasons. Sometimes it's to ensure an Olympic spot. Other times it's pride. Sometimes it's both. In an email to NPR, Miller wrote that he was proud to represent his Filipino heritage and that he hopes he's the start of a long line of Winter Olympic athletes from the Philippines. Bones Floro is with the Philippine Olympic Committee. He says there's definitely been a recent uptick in interest in winter sports, which he attributes in part to Asa Miller.

BONES FLORO: We get a lot of our local skaters, figure skaters, speed skaters, ice hockey. And I was told that they're starting a curling association in the Philippines as well.

WESTERMAN: The Philippine Ski and Snowboarding Federation confirms this uptick, particularly when it comes to dual U.S.-Philippine citizens, people proud of their Filipino roots and looking to reconnect to the motherland, just like Asa.


WESTERMAN: In the shadow of the Philippines National Cathedral, Miller's cousin, Joachim Regio (ph) says he was filled with pride when he saw Miller carrying the Philippine flag during the opening ceremony in Beijing.

JOACHIM REGIO: It's great seeing him. It's a really proud moment, especially for our family. And he could have represented the States if you wanted to, but you know, he chose to represent the Philippines, which is great. You know, we need more athletes in this space.

WESTERMAN: Regio anticipates watching Miller compete this time around will be a family affair, just like in 2018. Over dinner, everyone crowded around the TV, cheering their hearts out.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Manila.

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Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.