Malaysian Olympic figure skater Julian Yee on his routine during a pandemic, where he sees himself in the future and more
(Not) on thin ice
It's safe to say that figure skating has been on a standstill with competitions indefinitely postponed for the time being. For many athletes who train long and hard every year for the season’s competitions, the pandemic has really thrown a wrench in the works.
One such person who knows this feeling all too well is Malaysia’s resident (and only) Olympic figure skater, Julian Yee. (We last spoke to him in 2018 when he was gearing up for the 2018 Winter Olympics.) Yee was eagerly training for the upcoming World Championships when it was announced by the International Skating Union in March that it was cancelled—but that hasn’t stopped him from keeping busy.
In the video above, the figure skater gets candid with us on his time in Canada, how it feels to hit the ice again, and even shares a simple healthy chicken recipe you can follow at home. He also spoke to us about his thoughts on how figure skating can move forward in a pandemic context and the controversial 'Quad Situation' (an extremely difficult jump where skaters turn four and a half times in the air) that's currently happening in Men's Figure Skating.
What has been your main focus during self-quarantine?
“My main focus during the ‘lockdown’ period was basically to see how I could work things out despite the current situation—making the most out of what we have is the number one priority. To be honest, the beginning of this period was rather nice because I finally got some downtime to rest. But by the time it rolled over to week two, I felt that it was enough and I was ready to get going [laughs].
“That’s when I began teaching some lessons through Zoom and even joining some virtual workouts with my coaches. Apart from that, it was also a great time for me to think about my future and see the possibilities I could explore.”
The sport industry (among many others) has been affected by the pandemic: figure skating competitions have been postponed indefinitely. How do you keep yourself motivated during these times?
“Honestly, it’s pretty sad to hear about the cancellations and postponements of this season’s events. However, it was expected, given the current situation we are in. Personally, I see it as a break from competitions and it makes me even more excited to see what the level of skating will be when competition resumes.
"Because of competitions, we are usually able to split our year of training into seasons: we have the training season, which involves experimenting with new jumps or elements and finalising choreography; next would be the ‘competition season’, which is when most of the competitions take place and skaters tend to train at a lower intensity as compared to the ‘training season’ (to avoid any risk of injuries); lastly, we have the ‘off-season’, which is when skaters take some time off to let their bodies recuperate. So, not having any competitions in the near future technically gives us the chance to have a much longer ‘training season’—which is great because it pushes ourselves even further to come out better and stronger when competitions eventually resume.”
There are several jumps in competitive figure skating such as the Axel, Lutz and Salchow—which is your favourite to execute and why?
“My favourite is the Triple Flip Jump. I’m just more consistent with that jump and did it right off the bat. And my next favourite jump is the Triple Axel.”
Psst, watch Julian Yee nail the Triple Axel in his vlog above!
Speaking of jumps in figure skating, we have to talk about the hot topic these days: Quads. There has been a lot of talk lately discussing the nature of Men’s figure skating and how it’s turning into a quad competition—do you feel this way as well?
“Yes, definitely! This is especially prevalent when we look at the bigger competitions. Almost every other competitor is attempting or landing those quads beautifully; it has almost become an essential element in the program. Personally, I’m on the fence about this subject: half of me is thrilled to see the sport develop so quickly and witness so many skaters doing quads. But on the other hand, with all these quads coming into play, I feel like much of the emphasis has been placed on the jump aspects which, in turn, slowly starts to devalue the actual skating skills of the program.”
As an athlete, what are some easy ways for people to stay active during the RMCO?
“The first step is to get yourself moving. A lot of us tend to procrastinate—especially when it comes to staying active. The best way is to start small and get into the rhythm of exercising. For instance, start off with a 20-minute jog in the morning and then another 20-minute home workout later on in the day. Keep at it and slowly increase the duration each time. I’m confident that after two weeks of doing this consistently, it’ll feel so normal as though it has always been a part of your regular morning routine.”
On your Instagram, you have posted off-ice jump training videos for skaters. Was it challenging to adapt to new training dynamics when the MCO was first implemented?
“I wouldn’t really say that it was challenging. It was more like... different. This is because the off-ice jump training that we did were already part of our usual training regime even before the MCO was implemented. The only difference is that we’ve been doing way more of it since the MCO began. But similar to what I had mentioned in the previous question, after a week or two, it became a normal routine and I got used to it pretty quickly.”
You went from a skater who used to train on an ice skating rink in a shopping mall to competing on prestigious Olympic ice—how has your skating evolved over the years?
“Looking back at my old videos from when I started skating and comparing that to how I skate now, oh boy, was there a difference [laughs]. I mean, I do hope that I have evolved and matured as a skater in terms of the way I carry myself on the ice. But definitely through all the training, I’ve come to learn a thing or two to help me with my presentation and understanding of the art of the sport.”
Going back to Quad jumps, there are several male skaters who are known for the number of Quads they do—Nathan Chen comes to mind. Current Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu has also declared that he is determined to land a Quad Axel. Is there a pressure within Men’s figure skating to attempt Quads in order to remain competitive despite the fact that Quads are extremely risky and strenuous to the body?
“Personally, I feel like there is an indirect pressure to have a quad. Don’t get me wrong, having a quad is a great thing. Many skaters dream of landing one. However, because there are so many good skaters attempting and landing them, especially champions like Chen and Hanyu, it definitely brings up the level of the playing field. Hence why many skaters will strive to go for at least one quad in their programs. The risk factor of doing a quad has now been played down so much and often overlooked because unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the quad has now become almost an essential element to have in the Senior category—they have to do it or they know they wouldn’t stand a chance.”
In March 2020, you announced on social media that you’ve published a book about your figure skating journey titled Skating On The Edge. Is there a quote or phrase in it that you particularly like?
“I would say my favourite quote would be ‘Believe in yourself because everybody else believes in you.’ Trusting yourself and believing in what you can do makes a huge difference.”
Where do you see the sport of figure skating heading in the near future in light of the pandemic?
“I think this pandemic has given us, as a sport, so many different creative ways to keep active and involved, despite not being able to gather for bigger events. I feel that there will be many interesting events to come as a project resulted from this pandemic. Who knows…..maybe virtual competitions?”
With the 2020/21 figure skating season up in the air and competitions put on hold, how do figure skaters such as yourself protect your mental health during these times of uncertainty?
“I believe that uncertainty is inevitable. Doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be a factor of the unknown—the unpredictable. As skaters and athletes, we just have to look at the big picture. Keeping focus on what the big goal is and why we’re doing it. Although this pandemic has thrown a wrench in the works of our competitive season, we have to believe that everything will eventually fall into place. In the meantime, we just have to stay mentally strong and focused by reminding ourselves of what and why we are doing this.”
You’ve made it to the Winter Olympics—the pinnacle for any figure skater—what are your goals next?
“Now that I have been fortunate enough to make it to the Winter Olympics, the goal for me is to keep pushing myself— whether it may be training, coaching-related or even just in my future. I’m focused on building up a good career and future, but really, I’m keeping all my possibilities open and taking things one step at a time.”
What are three things that you learned about yourself during the MCO and current RMCO?
“A) Long hair and I don’t go well together. B) There are so many good songs out there that I haven’t heard of (oops?). C) It’s not so easy to stay put since I’m always so active and like to go about.”
You’re currently in Canada—tell us how it feels to be training on the ice again after all these months!
“It’s been great to finally get back on the ice! I think this has been the longest since I’ve been off. It’s a nice feeling because it’s almost like a fresh start again. I’m hoping to come back in peak physical condition from all the off-ice training and also ‘restarting’ without all the old bad habits.”
Figure skaters have to be flexible to execute their moves—what are some good ways for people at home to improve their flexibility?
“Consistency. That’s the key. If they stretch every day and slowly increase the stretch as time goes by, they’ll be way more flexible before they know it. There are so many exercises and stretches out there that we can follow. Especially during the MCO and RMCO, so many athletes and fitness enthusiasts have been posting a lot of content online. You’re really spoilt for choice if you want to learn!”
Lastly, what do you wish to be remembered for as a figure skater?
“Personally, as long as I’m remembered in a positive way, I’ll be happy. It would be amazing if I was able to help athletes or skaters through a tough time or inspire others out there. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to help develop and grow the sport in the country.”
Like the rock star athlete that he is, Julian Yee has shown us how he has been absolutely nailing every twist and turn coming his way with grace and finesse. Thank you, Julian, for giving your insights on how we, as a society, can get through these unprecedented times together. Yee is currently back in Malaysia so don't forget to follow him on Instagram to get the full details on how he's settling back in and his future skating journey (we're rooting for you!).
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