Once upon a time, far, far away, not long ago, some people thought Malaysia was a tropical jungle where people lived in trees.
And now they’ll really be confused. Malaysia’s two-man alpine ski team slalomed with the best of the west at the just-completed 8th Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, dignity intact.
Othman Mirzan, grandson of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was one half of the team that “started as a joke,” he says.
How did this Malaysia Boleh dream team come to be?
“My siblings and I all skied together and the running joke was always that we were the Malaysian ski team because we're the only Malaysians people see skiing.
"From that, the idea kind of grew. It started out as 'Let's see if this is viable' and then when we figured out it was viable we had to see what it takes.
"There's a lot of rings you have you have to jump through. I was 17 at the time and no one takes a 17-year-old seriously when they are trying to start a national association, but the Malaysian Olympic Committee were very enthusiastic."
And what does granddad think?
Mirzan, 22, says Tun is an enthusiastic supporter of the team, although he hasn't seen them race live.
"He doesn't like the cold so he doesn't come to the races but I know that he's very proud of what we've done … being able to represent Malaysia in a field that has never been represented before, for me, that is pushing the envelope and what he was and is all about."
Walking out with the Malaysian Delegation at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games was perhaps the proudest moment of my sporting career thus far. It is an honor to be able to make history and represent your country, and has been an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. #malaysiaboleh #harimausalji
A post shared by Othman Mirzan (@othmanmirzan) on
After initiating Ski Malaysia, the Malaysian Ski Association, in 2013, Mirzan enrolled at the University of Colorado, the sole member of the national team.
Serendipitously, a former coach of top US skier Lindsay Vonn had implanted a similar idea in the head of Jeffrey Webb, 18, who was born in Kuala Lumpur but moved to the US when he was five years old.
Competitive ski racer Webb had caught the eye of the coach at a training academy in Washington state, who suggested he look at the possibility of skiing for Malaysia on the international stage.
Webb never took the idea too seriously until his father read in a ski magazine that Mirzan had started Ski Malaysia.
"We go back to Malaysia for three months every year and when we were there we contacted the Malaysian minister of sport," Webb's father Steve explains.
"We were thinking it might take about two years to get through to someone as important as a minister, but he was very interesting in developing new sports and to our surprise he actually contacted us straight away and said come in and talk.
"It was really perfect timing, and the rest is history."
Mirzan and Webb soon met up in Minnesota and hatched their plans to put Malaysia on the alpine skiing map -- competitively.
Mirzan broke the ice when he entered this year's world championships in St Moritz, Switzerland. Then both were selected for the Asian Winter Games, with Webb finishing 15th and Mirzan 24th in the men's giant slalom.
What’s next? The Winter Olympics, of course. So it’s off to Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018, and then to Beijing in 2022.
Bring it on, says Webb.
"It's pretty neat that a small country like Malaysia can compete against these bigger countries."
Émigré Malaysians in snow-filled lands, take note.
Reporting by AFP/Julian Linden