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Malaysia's first Olympic figure skater living boyhood dream that began in PyeongChang

2018-02-06 - 11:06

PYEONGCHANG - Julian Zhi Jie YEE (MAS) first arrived in PyeongChang as a wide-eyed 12-year-old boy who enjoyed ice skating in his local shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.

Now 20, he is back as the first Malaysian figure skater to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games, where he has a real chance of finishing in the top 20 in the men’s singles.

“It really opened up my eyes, I didn’t know about winter sports,” YEE said of his two-week stint in 2009 as part of the Republic of Korea’s Actualising the Dream project, a government scheme designed to give rare opportunities to south-east Asian youngsters with a talent for winter sports.

“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. It sparked something in me.”

YEE was attracted to the sport because it was “nice to do something indoors with air conditioning”. But, buoyed by his experience in PyeongChang, he returned home and dedicated himself to figure skating.

From dealing with confused classmates who did not consider figure skating a sport, to convincing the ice-rink owners to let him train before the shopping mall opened to the public, YEE fought hard to gain recognition. And after years of training in Kuala Lumpur, he realised in late 2015 that he needed to move abroad to fulfil his ambitions.

“I started a crowdfunding page in 2016 to help me qualify for the Olympics. The training in Canada (his chosen destination) is not cheap. Our target was 30,000 Canadian dollars and we got 16,000. It has really helped.”

From his new base in Barrie, Ontario, YEE became the first Malaysian figure skater to compete at a world championships, finishing 21st in the men’s singles in 2016 in Boston, USA. An eighth-place finish in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, followed in 2017 before he got the chance to prove to the doubters in his home city that it was all worthwhile.

“It was a great moment, to show my home country that the sport is growing,” YEE said of winning gold at the Kuala Lumpur 2017 South-East Asian Games.

“I was very surprised to see the turnout. The ice rink, which was still in a shopping mall, was packed with fans. It was a real joint effort from all of us from south-east Asia. We really wanted to show that despite where we come from we can still do winter sport.”

Now he is back where it all started, YEE is ready to take his performances to the next level.

“Few people would have believed a Malaysian could qualify. And now I want to come and compete.”

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