Figure skater Julian Yee makes history as Malaysia's first Winter Olympian
Life is coming full circle for Julian Yee. As a 12-year-old boy he was sent to a figure skating camp in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Before arriving, all Yee had known was the ice rink at his local mall. Now 20, Yee returns as a figure skater for Malaysia at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Not only has Yee qualified, he has a legitimate chance to place in the top 20 in the men’s singles event.
Ironically, Yee was interested in figure skating because it was indoors and involved air conditioning in his tropical home of Malaysia. Yee had to overcome many cultural obstacles to rise to the level that he is at today.
As a young boy he had to explain to his classmates what figure skating was (and that it was indeed a sport). His biggest obstacle entailed finding a place to practice. In Malaysia, most rinks are small and are located in public malls. He had to convince ice rink owners to open early so that he wouldn’t have to compete with the public on crowded ice for training time.
The trip to PyeongChang eight years ago cemented Yee’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.”
After he returned home, he dedicated himself to the sport of figure skating. His dedication yielded results, becoming a four-time Malaysian champion.
In 2016, Yee realized he had to make a change if he wanted to compete seriously at the International level. He 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,” Yee said. “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 Yee 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. His biggest victory came in 2017 when he returned home for the South-East Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was very surprised to see the turnout,” he said. “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 Southeast Asia. We really wanted to show that despite where we come from we can still do winter sport.”
Yee seized the moment and captured gold in his home country.
Now, Yee is back in PyeongChang where it all began. His first test will come as the flag bearer for Malaysia during the Opening Ceremony.
Yee is not overwhelmed by the big moment of representing his country, and added, “few people would have believed a Malaysian could qualify. And now I want to come and compete.”