Sunway Sports Alumni Talk Series – “Episode 1: Maintaining International Competitiveness During a Pandemic“

Sunway Sports Team x The OFFICIAL Sunway Alumni Community launched their very first Sunway Sports Alumni Talk series, intending to kick-start this year with different talk shows featuring different guests. ‘Episode 1: Maintaining International Competitiveness During a Pandemic’ was broadcasted through Facebook Live on 26th March 2021, from 8:30–9:30 PM, and was hosted by Marvin Mah and Sureshkumar, featuring a special guest, national figure skater Julian Yee.

After opening salutations, the hosts Marvin, from Sunway Alumni Relations Team, and Suresh, from Sunway Sports Team, excitedly brought in Julian, live from his residence in Canada, where he had just completed training early that morning. On top of being Malaysia’s first Winter Olympian (2018), Julian is a Southeast Asian Games gold medalist (2017), CS Denkova-Staviski Cup silver medalist (2015), Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy (2016) and Skate Down Under (2013) bronze medalist, as well as five-time Malaysian senior national champion (2013–2017).

An alumnus of Sunway’s American Degree Transfer Program (ADTP), Julian said he chose Sunway mainly because of the convenience of having an ice rink within walking distance in Sunway Pyramid. Along with Sunway’s scholarship program for athletes being a strong incentive, the ADTP allowed greater flexibility for his training, compared to his other options, and the ability for him to transfer to Canada, which were ultimately best fit for his needs.

1) What made you choose figure skating as your sport? 

Julian was first introduced to the ice by his mother at the age of four. He explained that he naturally took up figure skating as his sport because many ice skaters like himself start with figure skating and his mother believed hockey was too rough or dangerous in comparison. Although it had not initially been his choice, figure skating became something he grew to be passionate about and doesn’t regret. 

2) Where were you and what was your initial reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

During the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, Julian was in Canada while his family was in Malaysia. At the time when the virus was primarily found within Asia, he simply assumed and hoped that it would pass soon. Nonetheless, he took his family’s advice from back home to stock up on sanitizers and face masks, which would soon prove handy as he realised by August that the situation was not going to end any time soon. After staying put in Canada for months and being hit by a sense of helplessness at the worsening situation, he made the decision to fly back to Malaysia to be with his family.

(Source: Raising an Olympian, Photography by Gan Yew Chin)

3) Did you face any struggles mentally during the lockdown and how did you cope with it?

He shared that, thankfully, he did not experience any struggles with mental blockades himself, but he does empathise with everyone facing difficulties in their own ways. Most people he knew were relatively fine with the first MCO, but the repeated enforcement of MCOs understandably took its toll on everyone’s mental well-being. He conveyed that an important outlook to have is that, “Everyone is in the same situation. We’re all facing it together.” Essentially, one need not feel alone or isolated. The chances of suppressing or overcoming mental slumps are also dependent on how one can find ways to keep themselves occupied. Indeed, many have discovered new hobbies and new methods to work online from home throughout the pandemic. It’s all about finding the next best alternative to get the job done, be it studying or training online.

4) How do you keep that level of discipline, to maintain your fitness and routine action? 

While on-ice training had to be drastically minimised or halted, off-ice training could continue. Even before the pandemic, figure skaters engaged in dryland exercises that involved conditioning, strengthening, and flexibility, along with dance, such as ballet. Off-ice training, therefore, was not unusual to Julian, but rather, its increased frequency and intensity were. In regards to staying disciplined with a personal routine, Julian recommends searching up exercises on YouTube to mix things up and keep workouts exciting. 

He and his fellow figure skaters conducted most of their lessons throughout the pandemic via Zoom. Julian could definitely sense how the absence of human touch negatively affected their training. For example, it was much easier to correct mistakes in person. Zoom brought new challenges to such dynamic physical activities, such as the need to be good at articulating and adapting to differences between the technological competence of younger and older audiences. As a fitness coach himself, Suresh concurred that on Zoom, there were new things to consider, like ensuring not only that his instructions were audibly clear, but also visibly clear, so that both trainer and trainees remained in view of the camera.

5) Where do things stand at this time for sports during this COVID-19 situation and how long do you think this is likely to last?

Recently, the Tokyo Olympics announced that spectators from overseas would not be allowed to attend. With the world’s largest sports event taking such measures, Julian anticipates that most sports events would follow suit. His gut feeling told him that the pandemic could last for at least another year before spectators are allowed to attend major sports events again like before.

6) With different SOP and security measures in place, are there any differences when it comes to training? 

Naturally, with the world gradually gathering its pieces together and the sports stage only now beginning to regain its prior strength, Julian shared that it is definitely a struggle for athletes in this season to adjust to the ‘new norm’ and still keep up the momentum and vigour of usual training. He mentioned that comparatively, Malaysia had a lot more standard of procedures to follow as opposed to Canada when it came to training sessions during the current recovery period of the pandemic. However, there are still measures set in place, perhaps different, to ensure that the spread of germs is still prevented even during training. Such measures include logging in manually in a logbook before entering the ice rink, limiting the number of skaters allowed on ice to 10 and allowing skaters into the skating centre 15 minutes before the booked sessions for training. Face masks and designated seats had become an intrinsic culture during training sessions and a non-physical touch policy was maintained between coaches and athletes. This definitely posed a few problems when it comes to hands-on training, however Julian highlighted that one must adapt and follow these procedures to see more improvement in the future.

7) How can athletes train safely without putting themselves at risk of COVID-19?

Julian expressed that generally, there is no guaranteed way of training without risks except for the guidelines for prevention. Of course, the primary rule of thumb is to be hygienic and responsible for one’s health and exposure in public locations. This is much easier said than done especially in Malaysia where most training sessions are held in the public skating rink at Sunway Pyramid. However, it was easy to achieve a higher level of control in athletic centres as not many people were allowed to go in at once. Julian also stressed that most of the time the responsibility lies on the individual themselves, not just for their own safety but for the safety of others as well. Following the basic steps to maintain hygiene, one should be wary when touching their face, hands of another person and such. Washing hands and using sanitizers must become a ritual especially when training with a partner during paired routines and ice dances. If one is feeling unwell, they should not attend training and risk spreading germs to other people. Additionally, when in close contact between people one should continue to be hygienic and maintain a safe distance, even between skating partners. Marvin further elaborated that the same steps can be applied in general for all sports as maintaining the standard role of procedure is key to ensuring the growth of sports continues even in these trying times.

8) Currently, are there any ongoing competitions and how was the experience?

Initially when the lockdowns were still in place, Julian explained that all competitions and events were at a pause. Nothing was going on due to the pandemic and each country had its own rules and regulations pertaining to the conducting of events. However, after about 8 months or so, things started to settle and there were a few competitions held within some countries with only their local skaters, as international travel was still banned. These competitions would be held in the Grand Prix circuits and competitors would have to be invited to attend such competitions. Hence, there was a good control on the number of attendees through ‘sports bubbles’. These ‘sports bubbles’ meant that competitors would only be allowed to interact with each other, on the rink, and no one else throughout the duration of the event to limit contact within large crowds. Currently, World Championships are being held in Sweden but Julian was unable to compete due to financial circumstances and insufficient training because of the recent state of affairs.

9) 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics: What are your plans and goals building up to next year? 

Julian shed light on the uncertainty that still hangs low in the air. With the way things have been, it’s hard to say if the Winter Olympics will even take place, but the possibility itself lies in the success of the Tokyo Olympics happening later this year. He also elaborated that a lot of factors affected his participation in the event like funding and adequate training. Since there is only one qualifying round this year due to the circumstances the pandemic posed, the chances to be selected to compete in the Winter Olympics are much slimmer than when there were 3 qualifying rounds. He resolved that due to the incalculable future, he is simply going to give it his all to see just how far this journey will take him despite the challenges, and how much he is able to contribute to society through his winnings.

10) Your advice for Sunway students or young athletes who dream of going to the Olympics and making professional athletics as a full-time career? 

Reflecting back on earlier days, Julian advised that students interested in pursuing sports should take to heart the saying “ask and it will be given”. One should seek advice from departments in charge, be it for issues concerning studies or sports. Sunway is properly equipped with a variety of facilities to use and get insights from. Setting goals and making clear benchmarks is also an effective way to see progress in your journey, whether academic or sports. He added that one should start thinking of a pathway to reach a specific goal in mind; knowing how to get to where you want to be already settles half the battle. As per what people usually say, Julian also stressed that passion is key in making sports a full-time career, especially in Malaysia. While there is still stigma present around making sports a full-time career especially in Asian culture, it does not diminish the fact that there are plenty of Malaysian athletes who are successful and have done more than just contribute to the country through their sport. Hence, he advised to take heart and be encouraged that if one sets their mind to anything, with the proper steps taken to achieve the goal, anything is possible.

Wrapping up the session, Marvin and Suresh humoured Julian to a game of rapid-fire questions where Julian shared entertaining fun facts about himself like his pick between Batman and Superman, female celebrity crush and the all-important question: nasi lemak or roti canai. All in all, the pilot episode of the Sunway Sports Alumni Talk proved to be an insightful event where Julian shared many bits of valuable information and experience for sprouting athletes and students alike.

Written by: Hannah & Michelle Cheong

Edited by: Wu Wen Qi

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *