Coming in from the cold


WHEN the conditional movement control order was announced in October, Malaysian Ice Skating Federation (MISF) committee members only had 24 hours to scramble and bring forward a scheduled test event.

That test was the second of the year for developing athletes, but only two out of six scheduled for 2020 could be organised because of the Covid-19 pandemic and MCO.

The cancellation of the National Figure Skating Championships planned for April along with postponement of four other tests are just some of the setbacks that hit the federation in the wake of the pandemic.

There were concerns that this would jeopardise the future of ice sports and lead to a loss of interest in figure skating as well as the threat of ice rinks closing down permanently.

The outlook for 2021 may be grim, but the committee – which governs an ice sport in a tropical country – is hopeful of a better year ahead.

“Our skaters were not able to get onto the ice until June, which meant about three months of no training on ice and when things opened, only a limited number were allowed on the ice at one time so skaters had to fight for a place to practise.

“Still, that did not deter them, ” said MISF president Irene Cheow.

MISF Virtual Figure Skating Challenge judges evaluating the performances.MISF Virtual Figure Skating Challenge judges evaluating the performances.

“Not having ice time is of course very challenging but it has given us time to concentrate on skaters’ off-ice training, which at times can be quite neglected. So in a way, this has been a blessing in disguise, ” she added.

Cheow said better diet and nutrition, webinars with a university sports academy as well as virtual training sessions with their coaches have helped keep skaters in shape and ready to resume their regular programme.

“We also organised a series of return to ice workshops by various coaches, who were sent for training last year and it was pretty well received, so 2020 was not entirely lost.”

MISF schedules six tests each year for its skaters to “level-up” but have been forced to postpone them to the first quarter of 2021 before the upcoming National Figure Skating Championships in April.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that the nationals can be held physically, of course with the standard operating procedures in place, ” Irene said.

While postponement had delayed the overall progression of the athletes, she said the effects were limited as individual skills could still be honed.

“Rank-wise, all athletes are somehow affected, but some countries like Russia are able to create their own bubble and in fact, hosted their own nationals, ” she said, adding that it was not the case in South-East Asia because of the climate and unavailability of facilities.

“Our senior athletes are facing problems training as they need time and big ice rinks.

Cheung manning the broadcasting console for the virtual challenge.Cheung manning the broadcasting console for the virtual challenge.

“There is only one Olympic-sized rink available at the moment while the rest are not big enough or are closed, so their efforts are now concentrated on coaching the younger ones.

“As it is, access to ice is difficult and rinks now limit the number of skaters so they are not making as much as they used to, which means there is always the fear that these places may close down, ” said Irene.

Competitions form the bedrock of talent development, especially for up-and-coming athletes and recently, with ice rinks not operating and restrictions in place, MISF had to think out of the box for its skaters, at least for those that were not national-level.

A Virtual Figure Skating Challenge with skaters performing a simplified routine and judges at a separate private venue watching their recorded performances seemed to be the answer.

“We are back on the ice training now but there is nothing to train for, so this virtual challenge gives them a mini goal to work towards.

“Hopefully, we are able to get a glimpse of the younger athletes as we are very interested in the lower levels, ” she explained, adding that the challenge, held at a co-working space, was the first and only competition of 2020.

Tournament director Peggy Cheung said that a total of 42 skaters in 12 categories took part.

Cheow hopes the nationals can be held physically, with standard operating procedures in place.Cheow hopes the nationals can be held physically, with standard operating procedures in place.

“We decided to host a virtual competition when the recovery MCO was announced, to give them something to look forward to before the end of the year.

“We had 89 skaters in last year’s nationals, so to have almost half that number participating is encouraging as there are still quite a number who have not been able to get back on the ice.

“It is totally different than performing on ice, as skaters will not be able to rent a rink for themselves just for this event, plus we had to modify our approach and forgo the usual artistic considerations when judging, ” she said, explaining that the nuances in the performance, namely the transitions and gracefulness of a skater, could be lost when evaluating through a recording.

“Some of the skaters are at risk of losing their touch and feel on the ice. And of course, they miss their friends as they normally get to cheer each other on during training and competitions, ” she added.

MISF also used the opportunity to give new judges exposure to competitive judging, using “shadow” judges alongside experienced ones to study the process.

“Setting up the judging room was a bit nerve-wracking as it was the first time we tried something like this, but we have learned a lot from the session.

“For 2021, we hope things will get good enough to where we can have a physical competition again, ” said Peggy.

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