Each time national figure skater Julian Yee Zhi-Jie steps onto the ice rink, it’s a case of “everyday is a different day”.
He has to remind himself that the day will not be the same – it may be better or worse.
“Whatever the outcome, I have to put in 100% to make the best out of my time,” said Yee, 20, a four-time Malaysian senior national champion (2013–2016).
Yee will be competing in the men’s singles figure skating event at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
The SEA Games will take place from Aug 19-30 while the Asean Para Games will be held from Sept 17-23. The Games will coincide with the celebration of Malaysia’s National Day as well as Malaysia Day.
It will be the sixth time that Malaysia hosts the biennial games. Kuala Lumpur 2017 (KL2017) is the brand name of the 29th SEA Games and the 9th Asean Para Games.
“I am working very hard and hope to add a medal to the gold medal tally for Malaysia,” he said via email.
As the SEA Games is adopting the Green Games initiatives, Yee will do his part for the environment.
“Wherever I go for training, I always use my BPA reusable water bottle instead of disposable bottles which contribute to plastic waste. Also, I try to carpool with my training mates whenever possible,” he said.
Yee’s mother introduced him and his brothers to skating.
His two older brothers – Ian, 29 and Ryan, 22 – have retired from the sport.
Yee took a gap year after studying for a year at Sunway University in Petaling Jaya. “I took off in August last year and will probably resume my studies later this year. I did the American Degree Transfer Program (ADTP) in Sunway University which would allow me to transfer credits over to the United States or Canada,” he said.
His “biggest achievement” is being “the first and only Malaysian to have qualified for the finals at the World Figure Skating Championships for two years in a row”. Also, Yee is ranked 37th in the world for figure skating.
Yee’s lowest points haul in ice skating nearly made him quit.
“I was about 11 or 12 years old and I felt that my skating life was taking up too much time and curbing my freedom,” he recalled.
But after serious consideration, he decided to persevere. After all, he had put in “so much effort and sacrifice, so hanging up the boots would be a waste”!
“I am very happy I decided to push on. Hard work and sacrifice pay off in the end.
“Perseverance is very important if you want to be a champion and be successful,” he said.
Yee encountered another obstacle when he suffered a toe injury.
“When skating, I would shift my weight unevenly throughout my body to ease the pain.
“However, that made my lower back muscle overcompensate for one side, which caused me to have a back injury.” Due to the injuries, he had a rough season, which set him back in “some world ranking points”.
Perfecting his sport
Yee – who began skating in 2001 – trains in Canada and Kuala Lumpur.
He chose to train abroad as the facilities for the sport in Malaysia are not fully developed yet.
“We lack the proper facilities and expertise for figure skating. Training ice time is very limited as all the local ice rinks are in shopping malls, which mainly cater to the public for leisure skating,” he said.
In Canada, where he trains at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ontario, he has more “ice time” as there are many ice rinks.
“The environment is good because there are also other skating athletes who are at the same level and make good training mates. The coaches are experienced and able to guide us in the right direction,” said Yee, who was back home in April for the Malaysian National Figure Skating Championship.
He stayed on for a few more weeks in Malaysia to spend some time with his family and settle personal matters before returning to Canada to resume his training.
In Canada, he trains at least five days a week.
“Daily, it’s three to four hours of on-ice training and an hour of off-ice training (cardio workouts, muscle strengthening, dance lessons, stretching and ballet),” he explained.
His longest training was for about seven hours in a day!
When he was developing his basic skills at junior level, training was tougher and repetitive. Now, at senior level, he undergoes “qualitative training” to refine his skills.
“The hours are still long,” he said.
In figure skating, the majority of the jumps and spins, as well as cool moves done on the ice, are considered difficult. Each jump is different and can have up to four rotations in the air. No one has ever landed a five-rotation jump yet!
The skaters make the spins and jumps look easy. “But they are the most difficult part of skating,” said Yee. There is no set time to perfect the executions of jumps and spins.
“Everybody works in a different way. Some people are more talented and may perfect the jump in two months whereas others may take two years,” he said.
There is no ideal or exact body weight for a figure skating athlete because everybody has a different build.
“However, we have to keep in shape and maintain our recommended body weight by our nutritionist. This would help achieve a better performance,” he said.
Choice of coaches
During Yee’s early years of skating, he had a few coaches who taught him “general balancing in skating and how to move around”. But in his career, he has two main coaches.
“My former coach, Harry Janto Leo, was a great coach and friend when I was training in Malaysia. He taught me a lot about being a person as well. Our lessons were always interesting. We were trying different techniques as we were both learning together,” he recalled.
“It then came to a point where both of us peaked at the same level. So, I sought assistance elsewhere. It was also due to the limited ice time in Malaysia.”
Yee finds his current coach Michael Hopfes “very fun to work with” as well.
“He’s very dedicated and always gives 100%. Just like my former coach, off the ice, he is also a great friend,” he said.
“When I relocated my training to Canada, he was the coach I went to. Since then, I’ve had no regrets going to Canada to train under him.
“So far, my career has been going quite smoothly with him because both of us are always giving our best and the results are showing gradually.”
Coach and athlete, he said, should strike a good relationship.
“We have to be able to click to understand each other better,” he mused.
When not figure skating, Yee likes to cook.
“I love experimenting with different cuisines and enjoy food very much. I am also now starting to do videos such as V-logs,” concluded Yee.