AGAINST THE ODDS
Skating, let alone the technically-demanding sport of figure skating is not exactly a sporting pursuit of choice in hot and humid Malaysia.
But the geographical and climatic barriers did not deter figure skater Julian Yee Zhi-Jie from dreaming of the Olympics – Winter, Olympics actually.
Those limitations – and the lack of financial support – for the sport, did not stop the 21-year-old from making history at Pyeongchang, South Korea in February.
Julian became the first Malaysian to compete at the Winter Olympics and came within a whisker of making the final of the men’s singles skating competition.
Taking to the world stage was a dream come true for Julian, who paced local shopping malls in his younger years to train – the only place in Malaysia that had skating rinks offering figure skating practice and training facilities.
“I started figure skating at Sunway Pyramid Ice when I was four,” says Julian. He was introduced to the sport by his mother, Irene Cheow.
“I practice at the rink before the mall opened in the wee hours of the mornings. Then, I will go home to continue with the rest of my day. I would come back again at night, after the mall closed,” Julian reminisced his typical day, growing up.
Julian’s journey to the Olympics was no easy feat. Figure skating – while growing in popularity – did not enjoy the kind financial support from the government and private sectors, unlike badminton, squash, or diving – sports which have produced world champions.
The cost to becoming an Olympic-standard figure skater comes at a hefty price tag. There is the physical labour – endless hours of jumping and spinning on the ice to create eye-catching and technically-proficient performances. Off the ice, there’s the cost of training, choreographers, custom-made boots and the services of costume designers.
“Doing any sport is not cheap at all, especially if you want to train for the Olympics or the World Championships,” says Julian.
Julian is currently pursuing a degree in business in Canada and trains at the Mariposa School of Skating, under the tutelage of former competitive German figure skater Michael Hopfes.
“Everyone around me inspires me - my parents, coaches, friends and supporters. They taught me life values and their encouragement has shaped me into who I am today.”
“I am so thankful to see how far they have come to support me until today. Their presence and encouragement is the spur for me to continue my career no matter what.” adds Julian.
One of Julian’s most memorable experience was making the top 10 of the ISU Junior Grand Pix Nagoya TV Cup – the first Malaysian to do so.
“I think every competition is an experience,” says the SEA Games 2017 gold medalist.
“There is always room for improvement. What I gained in the competition is learning from other skaters. I like to see the differences between my routine and theirs - how they are getting more points, how I can improve to be just like them or better than them.”
Far from home, Julian is setting his sights to complete his studies and continue training competitively. He hopes to eventually help raise the profile of figure skating in Malaysia.
“I am not sure where I would be after I graduate. I would probably become a coach, share my knowledge with up and coming skaters and elevate this sport in Malaysia.