Since 2003, the small mining town of Gallivare, Sweden, has drawn contestants from around the world to resolve an important matter: Who is the best Santa in the world? The competitors, who take part in such important Santa-related events as sleigh pushing, mechanical-reindeer riding and porridge eating, are generally jolly men who sport silver hair and red cheeks. But this year’s silver medalist — along with many medal winners of the past four years — breaks the mold. They’re the Santas from Hong Kong.
Meet Ho Wing-leong, a 130-lb. 21-year-old magician who competes in the Santa Winter Games under the moniker Santa Rainbow. Even though he might seem to have little going for him besides a convenient surname, Ho’s appearance at the games was the result of hard work and not a little financial assistance. To be chosen for the competition, he first had to defeat other contestants in qualifier events back in subtropical Hong Kong. Then he participated in a rigorous 10-day boot camp, paid for by Sun Hung Kai Properties, one of Hong Kong’s largest developers, which covers all the expenses necessary for Santa training, including importing a Swedish sled to practice with. (Wheels, however, had to be attached, since Hong Kong is devoid of snow.)
Ho said he was nevertheless disheartened when he saw the other contestants, who looked as if they “lived in a forest and had their own deer,” he told the Wall Street Journal. But the practice paid off: Ho defeated another strong Asian contender — Japan’s Santa Paradise Yamamoto — in the porridge-eating competition and did well enough in other parts of the contest, including the karaoke event and the sack race, to place second overall behind Santa Holland. Thanks to their intensive training regimen, Hong Kong Santas have now placed in the medals for four years straight — starting with Santa Jim Chan, who won gold in 2009. Since then, “it’s always more Santas from Hong Kong,” organizer Mathias Svalenstrom told the Journal.