SAPPORO, Japan, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- Australia is relishing the chance to appear in the Asian Winter Games although the Oceania country can't take home any medals.
"This is just a fabulous opportunity so we're really trying to make the most out of it," Australia's Chef de Mission Geoff Lipshut said on Saturday.
Australia and New Zealand are making their first appearance at the Games after accepting an invitation from the Olympic Council of Asia.
Since Oceania does not have a regional Winter Games, this is the two countries' first time competing on snow and ice at a continental event.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has selected a team of 30 athletes, ranging from world champions and past Olympians to some of the most promising young teenagers who could lead Australia's challenge at the next two Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022.
"We're very much looking at our participation here as a stepping stone to the future," said Lipshut.
"We've got five athletes who have already been to an Olympics but for the rest, this is the first time they are going to a multi-sports games so we're very much using this as a development opportunity."
Australia has now won 24 medals in the Winter Olympics, including five golds, since the country won its first medal in 1994, a bronze in short track speed skating.
With Asia set to host the next two Winter Olympics, the timing of Australia's admission to the Asian Winter Games could not be better, particularly as Australia's strongest winter sports - freestyle skiing, snowboarding and short track speed skating, are all big in Asia.
"A lot Asian countries do the same events as us and they are among the very best in the world, especially some of the athletes from Japan, (South) Korea and China," Lipshut said. "So to be able to compete against world class athletes in a competition like this is just invaluable because normally our athletes are scattered all over Europe and North America competing individually so they don't get to come together as a team."
Australia has also been forging closer sporting ties with Asia for years. The Australian Institute of Sport has recruited several Asian coaches to train some of its elite athletes and the Football Federation of Australia left Oceania more than a decade ago to join the Asian Football Confederation.