‘There are ice-skating rinks in Hong Kong?’ It’s what figure skating champion Maisy Ma gets asked by foreigners, and it’s not an entirely an unfair question. The subtropical city rarely conjures images of winter sports, and there are only a few ice rinks, none of which is international competition size. Despite these limitations, the sport’s popularity is growing in the city, with skaters like Ma citing South Korean Olympian Yuna Kim as an inspiration.
Ma’s family moved to Beijing when she was three years old, and her nursery school was next to an ice rink. That’s where she became entranced by the skaters she saw soaring across the ice. ‘I loved how it looked as if they were flying,’ she says. ‘At first I did it for fun and I skated with the flow. But then I entered a Chinese junior nationals competition and won silver. That’s when I thought to myself, I can really do this.’ Now Ma holds seven Hong Kong champion titles and has become the face of Hong Kong figure skating.
In the men’s division, the towering six-time Hong Kong champion Harry Lee first cut his blades into the rink at Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong when he was five and got serious about the sport in secondary school. ‘At that time,’ he says, ‘I would be at school from 8am to 4pm, and then I would practise at Festival Walk until 10pm. That’s where I would see Edward practising, which motivated me to train harder.’
He means former Hong Kong champion Edward Chow, now retired from competitive figure skating but still in the sport as an International Skating Union-certified judge. ‘Figure skating in Hong Kong is definitely moving in the right direction,’ says Chow. ‘We are getting more funding, so there are more competitions. And now we are working on getting a competition-size rink, which can hopefully build a stronger skating community here. It’s really at the competitions where you meet all the skaters, coaches and judges.’
‘I hope the sport expands, because it’s something that I love, and I want more people to know about it,’ says Ma. She had her eyes set on this month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but injuries to her right ankle prevented her from entering the qualifying trials. ‘It’s been hard to mentally recover from that because it’s not your ability but your injury that stopped you from going,’ she says. ‘But on this journey there are still a lot of goals to accomplish. In four years I’ll only be 22 and the Olympics will be in Beijing, where I started skating. Competing there would be something.’