Despite being a humid and tropical country, Malaysia is about to witness its first participation in the Winter Olympics tomorrow (16 Feb 2018) by Julian Zhi-Jie Yee, the country’s first athlete to qualify for the figure skating game in Pyeongchang. As a young boy, he had to explain to his classmates what figure skating was, and that it was indeed a sport. Now, through pure determination and total dedication, Julian has put Malaysia on the skating map, as he has successfully ranked 37th in the world last year.
On top of being scheduled to compete in the top 20 men’s singles event, the 21-year-old figure skater was also given the honour of being Malaysia’s Jalur Gemilang flag bearer at the opening ceremony parade in Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium last weekend. Here’s what we know about the talented athlete so far:
1. He has devoted his life to figure skating since young
Julian started at the tender age of 4 and was sent to a figure skating camp in PyeongChang, South Korea, when he was 12. It was that trip that cemented Julian’s interest in the sport. “It was my first proper training camp, my first time without my parents, my first time training with other people, my first time training with people from other countries,” he said, according to a PyeongChang 2018 media release. “It sparked something in me.”
2. His achievements
Since then, he has dedicated himself to the sport of figure skating, which drove him to become a five-time Malaysian champion. He has also garnered multiple awards along the way, including winning bronze at the Asian Figure Skating Trophy 2016, placing 8th in the 2017 Asian Winter Games, as well as becoming a finalist in two world championships. Last year, Julian took gold at the SEA Games held in Kuala Lumpur and was subsequently ranked 37th in the world.
3. He practiced in local malls
His biggest obstacle entailed finding a place to practice. In Malaysia, most ice rinks are small and are located in public malls. His favourite training spot is the rink in Sunway Pyramid and he had to convince the owner to open early so that he wouldn’t have to compete with the public on crowded ice for training time, or he will train when the mall is closed for the day instead.
4. He trained in Canada
In 2016, Julian Yee moved to Barrie, Ontario, Canada to seek higher quality training under Michael Hopfes, who competed at the world championship level for Germany. “I started a crowdfunding page in 2016 to help me qualify for the Olympics. The training in Canada is not cheap. Our target was 30,000 Canadian dollars and we got 16,000. It has really helped.”
His move paid off, as Julian became the first Malaysian figure skater to compete at a world championship in 2016. He made it out of the short program phase and finished 21st overall after performing his free skate. The following year, he finished eighth at the Asian Winter Games in Japan.
5. Fresh music selection
The Winter Games in Pyeongchang is also a first in terms of allowing figure skaters to use songs with lyrics to attract younger spectators and Julian has boldly taken advantage of the sport’s new approach to music. Instead of choosing classical music like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, Julian will jump into the sequined soul of James Brown, whose voice will fill the arena with a medley of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” for his long program.
“If I show the amount of energy James Brown showed on stage, it will be something good for the audience and the judges to see,” he revealed upon qualifying for the Games in September at a competition in Germany.
Now, he is back in PyeongChang where it all began.
Julian’s competition begins on Friday in the short event at 9am Malaysian time and will need to place himself among the top 24 out of 30 competitors to qualify for the final round (free skating) the following day, 17 February 2018 at 9am. All the best!