Julian Zhi carries the national flag during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. REUTERS

No Malaysian has participated in the Winter Olympics before. Figure skater Julian Yee, who will have that rare opportunity in Pyeongchang, speaks to NSTP Sport.

Question: How did you discover your passion for figure skating?

Answer: I started skating at four years old, and every four-year-old kid does not have a clue what he or she is doing. When mum says do something, you do it.

Mum (Irene Cheow) brought my brother and I ice skating at Sunway Pyramid. At first it was just once a week as a family activity but then when I was five, I joined my first competition and it got more serious from there.

I then started skating twice, three times, four times a week until I was skating everyday.

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.

Q: How do you feel knowing that you will be competing in the Winter Olympics soon?

A: I am just a whole bunch of emotions now, nervous, excited, scared, happy. Every day is a different feeling for me as we get closer to the competition. I just want to go there and experience it as soon as I can.

Julian Yee in action during the KL2017 Sea Games. Pic by AZIAH AZMEE

Q: How is your preparation in these final days before your event?

A: Training has been going to plan, my coach (Michael Hopfes) and I have planned out the whole programme. As I will only be competing in the second week, we have a lot of time there before my event. The plan is to peak at the right time for the competition.

Q: What are your personal expectations in Pyeongchang?

A: We do not really have very high expectations as this is the first time Malaysia is competing in the Winter Olympics. My aim is to do the very best I can and have no regrets coming off the ice. In the end it is the judges who will decide if I make it to the finals or not.

Of course I would love to make it to the finals, that is my goal but honestly as long as I do my best, I'll be happy.

Q: Which figure skater do you look up to?

A: I really do admire one skater from Japan — Daisuke Takahashi. I look up to him because of his style. He really transforms his story into his skating. Sometimes there is no connection between the music and the programme but you really feel it when he skates. I really enjoying watching him.

Q: Anyone in particular you are looking forward to see in Pyeongchang?

A: I am very, very lucky to have qualified for the Pyeongchang Games as I will not only be able to compete but also watch all these great athletes and learn from them.

There is no specific one I would like to see. In general all of them are really good and I am looking forward to seeing all of them.

Q: Do you have any pre-competition rituals?

A: I usually have a practice session before the competition, go back and have some light food. I usually don't eat in the four hours before I compete to avoid any stomach issues.

I normally try to take a short nap as well and just before I go on ice, I say my prayers and hope for the best.

Q: What are you like off the ice?

A: On ice, especially when I am doing my programme, I sort of channel myself into a different person to portray the character I am trying to be, according to the music and all that.

Off the ice, I think I try to be myself. Sometimes I am just a goofball joking around, sometimes I am serious. I am not really graceful when I am eating or something like that, but on ice I try to be as graceful as I can.

Q: In a country where badminton and football are the most popular sports, did you have to put up with any negativity growing up?

A: I would say most of that (negativity) was during my early years of skating. They (people) were still close minded and not open to the concept of having a winter sport in Malaysia.

People would say what... skating? that’s for fun, that’s not a sport. It really took time for them to open their minds and see that outside Malaysia there are other sports besides football, badminton, swimming and all that.

I am very thankful that once people became more open minded, everybody was very supportive, though of course some were still surprised to hear of a figure skater from Malaysia.

Q: How did you feel, watching the feature film Samsung made about you, "Julian and His Magical Skates’’?

A: Honestly, I was mind-blown when I saw it, I was about to cry I tell you, I had to hold back the tears. The only time I have cried was when I qualified for the Winter Olympics, it came out like a waterfall.

Watching the film again made me relive the moment and remind me that all the hard work has paid off. The ending (which featured Irene) was just the icing to the cake.

Q: Who do you credit for the success you have achieved so far?

A: My success really belongs to everyone because of the support that I get from everybody, my friends, my family and also Samsung, who have believed in me, not many companies are willing to do that.

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