Meet Julian Zhi Jie Yee, a 20-year-old figure skater from Malaysia who recently made history as the country’s first Winter Olympian competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Yee’s passion for the sport began at four years old when his mother took him, with his brother in tow, to a local ice skating rink at least once a week at Sunway Pyramid in Malaysia, according to an interview with NSTP Sport.
The once a week visit to the rink then turned into everyday practice after his first competition at five years old.
“The passion grew as I became older and began to understand the sport more. I am very happy that I chose this sport as a lot of kids my age would be out in the heat playing football while I remained skating indoors with the air-conditioning. I have no regrets,” Yee said.
When he was 12, Yee qualified to participate in South Korea’s Actualizing the Dream project, which was established by the government to help Southeast Asian children hone their winter sports potential.
“It really opened up my eyes, I didn’t know about winter sports,” Yee said in the PyeongChang 2018 media release. “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 eventually dedicated himself to figure skating after the project. But it wasn’t easy, as he encountered several obstacles along the way.
For one thing, he had to explain to his classmates that figure skating is considered a real sport outside Malaysia. Yee also had a difficult time finding a place to practice figure skating.
Most skating rinks in the country are often small and located inside public malls, where Yee had to convince the owners to let him practice before they opened their doors to the public, NBC Olympics noted.
As a result of his dedication, Yee became a four-time Malaysian champion. But the 20-year-old figure skater doesn’t just want to become a champion in his home country; he also wants to show the world his skills in the rink. But in order to achieve that dream, he had to ask a lot of people for help.
“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,” Yee said.
He became the first Malaysian figure skater to ever compete at several world championships.
Yee finished in 21st place in the men’s singles in 2016 in Boston. He then finished eighth in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, in 2017. That same year, he also won the gold medal during the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in August.
“It was a great moment, to show my home country that the sport is growing,” he said of his latest achievement. “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.”
It’s been eight years since Yee has been in Pyeongchang, and he is ready to show the world his next level performance in the competition, where he is not only qualified, but also has a real shot at making it to the top 20 in the men’s singles event.
Images via Instagram / julianyeeee