Cool as ice

Cool as ice

It takes hard work and a thick skin to become a champion figure skater


Figure skater Harry Lee performs a jump at the Glacier ice rink in Kowloon Tong.
Figure skater Harry Lee performs a jump at the Glacier ice rink in Kowloon Tong.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Falling on the ice hurts. But the pain hasn't scared figure skater Harry Lee Hau-yin away from the sport. Falls encourage him to seek perfection in upcoming competitions.

Harry was inspired to start skating by his elder sister, Phyllis Lee Tze-ching.

"I started skating at five years old, after seeing Phyllis having lessons on the ice. I wanted to prove to myself that I could jump higher than her," he says.

The gifted Harry has evolved into the five-time champion of the Hong Kong Figure Skating Championships. He won his first title for under-15 skaters in 2007 and four more titles in the junior category for under-18s from 2008 to 2011.

He makes winning titles look easy, but actually he works hard throughout the year. Unlike skaters in Europe - or in Japan, South Korea or northern China - Harry doesn't have an iced road surface or a gigantic ice rink to practise on, and his training time is limited to non-business hours at the ice rink. While most Young Post readers are having their breakfast and preparing for school, Harry is already at Glacier, the ice rink at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong. The ice rink sponsors the national team training sessions in the early mornings and after 10pm on weekdays.

Usually Harry starts his training before 7.30am and he has about two hours with his national team coach Zhao Ying.

"I have joined this morning session regularly since Form Three," says the student from Pui Ching Middle School. "I applied for special permission from school to skip the prayer time and first two lessons." He rushes back to school in Mong Kok before the first recess ends every day. It is a tiring routine.

"It's not possible for me to practise during the business hours of the ice rink, since my movements need so much space and I need to gain speed before I jump. I would definitely crash into other skaters if I did." He comes back for another hour of training three evenings a week.

Harry, at 1.78m tall, has fallen on the ice countless times, but he gets back up again and continues with his rotational jumps and spins. He is a tough teenager, and his experience at last year's Asian Winter Games, his first senior tournament, showed his character. "There were two days of competition for figure skating at the multi-sport event," he says. "I failed a loop jump on the first day and I was frustrated. But I kept evaluating why I fell, and tried again and again during practice on the morning of the second day. I made sure that I was all right for the jump and I succeeded."

Harry's jumping skill in skating gives him an advantage in ball games as well. But he loves ice sports best. His coach thinks his performance is impressive.

"With the limited time and resources we have, Harry is doing much better than we expected and he has made speedy progress in recent years," says Zhao. "A skater usually attains his career high in his early 20s, so Harry still has a long way to go."

But Harry is a quick learner. It took him only a few months to master the triple turn jump which, in normal cases, could take up to two years.

The 17-year-old beat some outstanding Asian skaters at the 2011 Asian Figure Skating Trophy held in China. He ranked fourth overall among eight junior skaters. Most participants were older and more experienced than him, but he showed no fear and fully demonstrated his skills.

But the top junior skater wants more and has clear targets for the near future. "The first target is to increase the accuracy of my loop jump, which is the most difficult for me among all triple jumps. And I will try the triple-and-a-half jump after that," he says.

South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist, is one of her country's most popular athletes. One day, it is possible that Harry could become one of Hong Kong's sporting heroes.



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