11yo Malaysian figure ice skater aims for Winter Olympic medal

As a competitive figure skater, Sangeeta currently ranks No.8 in Asia. Photos: Gayateri Harikrishnan

“No pain, no gain, no complaint” is the motto of 11-year-old Sangeeta Retnakumar. That has led the bubbly, pint-sized girl to not only represent Malaysia in several figure skating tournaments in Asia, but also winning first place in many of them.

Sangeeta first started competing professionally four years ago and today, ranks No.8 in Asia in the world of figure skating, according to the Ice Skating Institute Asia (ISIAsia).

"I like figure skating because there is a sense of freedom when I’m gliding around on the ice. It gives me the opportunity to be creative, express myself and also entertain the people who are watching,” she says.

She adds that while it is fun and exciting participating in all the tournaments, it is also “very challenging and difficult”. Hence, it is fulfilling when she is able to successfully perform an element such as a spin, spiral, jump or footwork.

Sangeeta, who began skating at the age of seven, has been trained in technical skill, speed, consistency and artistry on ice. She is also working on improving her figure skating skills under two coaches – Angeline Chan from Malaysia and Michelle Chak from Hong Kong.

The competitive figure skater that Sangeeta admires most is former (Winter) Olympic champion Yuna Kim, 28, from South Korea.

Sangeeta won the Rhythmic Ribbon event in Skate Malaysia 2019.

“Her facial expressions are great, and her programme – including her jumps, spins and other elements – are just so powerful. I hope to be like her one day,” she enthuses. “My goal (currently) is to qualify for the Winter Olympics and win,” Sangeeta adds, the passion in her eyes evident.

She also aims to represent Malaysia in figure skating at the SEA Games and ISU Junior Grand Prix. Although she still has a few more years to prepare since the youngest age for contestants is 16 for the Winter Olympics and SEA Games, and 13 for the ISU Junior Grand Prix, she admits that it is no easy task.

“There are many talented figure skaters in Malaysia and in the world. And there is only one spot (for figure skating) for Malaysia in the Winter Olympics,” she says.

A factor that Sangeeta and her family agree upon that helps increase a skater’s chances of winning is “more time on the ice”.

“According to Sunway Pyramid Ice’s head coach Harry Janto Leo from Indonesia, who is also ISIAsia’s president, one needs to skate at least 30 hours per week,” says Sangeeta’s father, Retnakumar Annamalai, 41.

Sangeeta won first place in the Freestyle event at Skate Malaysia 2018.
With her coach Angeline Chan at Skate Malaysia 2017.
At Skate Malaysia 2019, Sangeeta won five gold medals.
Sangeeta (top right) with her parents and younger siblings.

“In Russia, a skating student spends six hours on the ice per day because they have a specialised school for skating,” adds Gayateri Hariskrishnan, 39, Sangeeta’s mother. “That’s why it is easy for skaters from the US, Canada and Russia to have many gold medallists. They prepare from a very young age.

“Besides having specialised skating schools, in certain regular schools, they also incorporate skating into the physical education curriculum,” Retnakumar says, adding that they hope to eventually send their daughter to Russia to study at the skating school, even though that would involve costs and perhaps uprooting the family.

When asked why she selected skating over other more popular sports in Malaysia such as badminton or squash, Sangeeta replies: "Because I don’t like to ‘fight’ against an opponent to win. I believe that I’m my own best competition and I want to succeed in being the best me.”

She went on to explain that even though there are other contestants in skating tournaments, judging is by a point system so consistency, progress and improvement are important.

Balancing act

For her achievements in figure skating, Sangeeta was awarded the Tokoh Harapan Kokurikulum at her school, SK Pusat Bandar Puchong 2.

So how does Sangeeta juggle school and training for competitions? “It’s all in the schedule – follow it and it will be okay!” says Sangeeta, who goes to SK Pusat Bandar Puchong 2, Selangor.

Sangeeta, whose favourite subjects are Science and Art, adds that usually she will go for tournaments that take place during the school holidays so that it doesn’t disrupt her studies.

It takes roughly two months for her to prepare for a skating tournament and she usually has practice three to four times a week, usually spending the whole day after school at the rink.

Her skating achievements have been recognised by her school and she was recently awarded the Tokoh Harapan Kokurikulum (Most Promising Student Icon in Co-Curriculum Activities) in 2018. Currently, Sangeeta is preparing for Skate Hong Kong 2019, which will take place in November.

Besides training hard and spending more time on the ice, Sangeeta believes that having the love and support of parents who believe in her and are willing to sacrifice to help her achieve her goals is instrumental to her success as a professional figure skater.

“It is like Walt Disney’s saying: ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’,” says Gayateri. Adds Retnakumar, “But it is not always easy and there are many sacrifices involved.”

This includes ferrying Sangeeta around for classes on weekdays and waking up at 4.30am on weekends to bring her for classes that start at 6am, as she has to be there an hour earlier to warm up.

Figure skating is also an expensive sport. As a skater progresses, she has to put in more hours and more costs are involved. “But it is her passion and we wish to see her succeed,” her parents say.

Sangeeta’s lifelong goal is dependent on her winning in the Winter Olympics. “I hope to start an ice skating school here in Malaysia, and to eventually coach too,” she says.

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