When people talk about sport in Malaysia, the conversation typically centres around badminton or football. Hardly anyone is talking about winter sports.
But perhaps times are changing in the Southeast Asian country. Three years ago, at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the Stripes of Excellence was flown for the first time on the Winter Olympic stage as Julian Yee and Jeffrey Webb became the first Malaysian athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics.
Julian Yee - Figure Skating
Yee was born in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur and started skating at the age of four with his mother and brothers. He trained at an ice rink located in a shopping mall; a normal occurrence in Malaysia. Yet the rink was two-thirds the size of its Olympic counterpart, which posed some obvious challenges for Yee - notably with regards to developing his jumps, as well as reliable access to the rink itself.
Yee and his coach were forced to train around the mall's opening hours, which sometimes meant skating at three a.m. - in the dark. They repeatedly watched and analysed videos of well-known skaters on YouTube, and when Yee did take part in international competitions, some people they met didn't even know where Malaysia is.
In order to make his Olympic dream come true, Yee decided to train in Canada. In 2017, Yee competed at the final qualifier for PyeongChang 2018, finishing sixth out of 26 athletes and securing the history-making ticket to go to the Winter Olympics.
“Every athlete dreams to go to the Olympics, but honestly for me, coming from this tropical country in a winter sport, I didn’t ever think I would make it.”
- Julian Yee
On 9 February 2018, Yee carried the Malaysian flag at the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Towards the end of 2018, Yee founded a skating academy in his home country. As head coach and director of the academy, he endeavours to raise the profile of figure skating and nurture promising skaters in South East Asia.
As for Yee's competitive career, the 24-year-old is working to qualify for his second Olympic appearance at Beijing 2022.
“In Malaysia, in sports, it really does bring everyone together. They don’t really look at your colour here in Malaysia. So I find that that’s a really good way to unite us as one. Knowing that you, as one person, are able to bring a country together, I think that’s a great feeling, and I hope I can achieve that.”
- Julian Yee
Jeffrey Webb - Alpine Skiing
Webb was born in Kuala Lumpur to a Malaysian mother and an American father. At the age of five, he and his family moved to Chelan, Washington in the USA.
He would go on to join a local skiing team - Mission Ridge Ski Team - simply because he liked the team jacket.
That turned out to be a wise decision, as the U.S.-based teenager would go on to not only become the first Alpine skier representing Malaysia to compete at the Asian Winter Games (which he did in 2017 in Sapporo, Japan), but the first to compete at the Winter Olympics, where he participated in the slalom and giant slalom events at PyeongChang 2018.
More youth, more Winter Games
While Yee and Webb are rightly recognized as the first-ever Malaysian Winter Olympians, one shouldn't forget about figure skater Chew Kai Xiang, who - aged just 16, became the first (and to date only) representative from Malaysia to participate at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer in 2016.
Inspired by his older sister, Chew started figure skating when he was four.
Thanks to Yee's achievements at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in 2015 (where he finished 19th), Malaysia earned its first-ever spot to compete at the Winter YOG in Lillehammer. While Julien was not able to participate due to his age, Chew - ranked second in the national junior rankings - was instead selected as a delegate athlete. To prepare for the Youth Olympic stage, he took a year off from school and moved to Japan for competitive training.
One year prior to Chew making history at the Winter YOG, Beijing was chosen as the host city of the XXIV Winter Olympic Games at the 128th IOC session held in Kuala Lumpur. It was a historic occasion, as Beijing will become the first city to have hosted both the Summer and Winter editions of the Olympic Games when the latter opens on 4 February.
What's more, at the third edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games at Lausanne 2020, Malaysia sent a further two athletes to compete, with Sean Yeo and Dione Tan both participating in short track speed skating.
With more young talented Malaysian athletes competing at a high level in winter sports, the future of Winter Olympic sports in Malaysia appears promising!