Singaporean figure skater Chloe Ing has spent two thirds of her life on ice, and the majority of that time has been spent living overseas.
However, sitting down in an interview with Mothership during a brief return to Singapore following her figure-skating SEA Games win and before going back to Canada, Ing assures us that we should make no mistake — she considers herself Singaporean through and through.
The 21-year-old, who was born in Singapore but has been living in Toronto for more than a decade, recently brought home Singapore's second gold in the ladies’ individual figure skating event (the first was courtesy of Yu Shuran, who with Ing delivered a one-two podium finish in 2017) — on this second occasion ice skating has been featured at the SEA Games.
For Ing, this achievement is just part of a long journey that started 14 years ago — and like many of Singapore's elite athletes, many years of sweat and tears.
Two of the most important factors throughout, for her at least, have been her relationship with her twin sister, Chantelle, and her identity as a Singaporean athlete living overseas.
Ing, who works part-time to help fund her own training fees, usually starts her days at 7am and only returns home way past sunset, around 10:30pm.
Her time is spent balancing her training sessions at Oakville Skating Club and Mariposa International Training Centre, classes at the University of Toronto (where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in health sciences and is on the Dean's List), and her two jobs as an English tutor and part-time skating coach.
One might ask, is it really worth all that effort?
For Ing, going to the Olympics has always been a dream, and that dream has driven her to keep pushing through:
“I grew to love (figure skating) very, very fast. So for me, then — for all figure skaters — you want to go to the Olympics. And from a young age, it's something that became kind of a dream for me. So I guess, I never really looked at it as something beyond something that I really wanted to do. So I never really questioned why I was doing it, because, I guess, I had a goal for me.”
Inspired by skaters on TV
Ing's entry to figure skating occurred the same way much of her life has — with her twin sister by her side.
The two first became enamoured with figure skating while watching the 2002 Winter Olympics on television. They saw the skaters competing and tried to copy their movements.
“There's this one spin that I do at the end of my program, where I bring my foot up to my face — the I-spin. Basically I saw someone do that on television, so I looked at it, and I pointed at it, and I told my mom, ‘I want to do that!’”
Here's a gif of Ing doing just that, 15 years after she saw it on TV:
A couple years later, when the twins were seven years old, their mother decided to send them for lessons at their local rink after hearing about it from some friends who skated.
Ing's mother, Jocelyn Soh, laughs, sharing that she never expected the few lessons she put her daughters into to turn into what it has today.
Once the girls started skating, though, they progressed quickly. While skating was initially meant to be recreational for them, a coach very quickly picked up on their skills and told Soh that they had talent and potential.
Soh says, laughing, “I wonder if they tell everyone that. Like, ‘Oh, they’re super talented. Super talented!”
That coach did, however, mean what she said, and pushed Ing and Chantelle to enter competitions.
She was also right about their talent and potential, as a mere three months after they started skating, Ing came in first place and Chantelle in third in their first competition.
After that first competition, there was another, followed by another.
The intensity of training picked up quickly for the sisters, soon taking up much of their time, with training sessions at the rink both before and after school.
Training with her best friend
As training sessions became more frequent and the time invested increased, Ing was grateful to have her sister there with her through it all.
Ing remembers the time fondly:
"Training together every day was the best sort of training – I was always with my best friend, and we encouraged each other to do our best."
She shares that on less intense days, they would choreograph duets together in the corner of the rink: "They were absolutely outrageous, but some of the most fun we had."
Of course, the classic sibling rivalry was also present, but it was all from a place of love.
"We’d never be bitter about who did better in competitions; to us whoever won was a win for the both of us," Ing explains.
She laughs about one particular instance of their friendly competitiveness:
“I was so angry, because it was like — they added up a total of three different competitions, and after the first one I was leading by, like, three points! And then I started getting injured, and then overall, after we added the total, she beat me by 0.02 [points].”
Ing shares the anecdote with a wide smile, indicating that the rivalry had been all in good fun.
“She still doesn’t let me live it down!” she adds, laughing.
Chantelle dropped out of skating due to injury
The Ing sisters continued to train together growing up, until Chantelle had to quit after developing tibialis posterior tendonitis (an inflammation of the posterior tendon) from an overuse of her foot muscles in 2011.
They were 12 at the time, and Ing shares that it was tough losing her sister as her skating sidekick.
"Yeah, it was hard… very hard. Because, well, for me, I just lost a training partner, and it was someone that I could share… we had the same passion, same love.
I mean, it was, of course, probably a lot more difficult for her, because she lost the one thing she had loved so much for so many years.
So at first it was kind of weird, because I was so used to having her around, having someone to talk to about a sport that I could experience with, and when that stopped, it took a little time to adjust for both of us."
But Ing found that even though Chantelle was no longer able to be her training partner, her sister was still there for her, giving her emotional support.
“Even when she stopped, she still continued to support and encourage me, because skating (has its) ups and downs — well, (like) all sports, of course.
Having her not physically there was hard at first, but we kind of learned that she was always there, even if she wasn’t skating next to me.”
Ing has called Chantelle one of her biggest inspirations, while Chantelle is Ing's self-proclaimed number one fan.
She flew to Kuala Lumpur in 2017 to watch Ing win the SEA Games silver medal, but was unable to be physically present at the most recent Games because of her exams.
Still, Ing shares that her sister sent her well wishes from afar:
“She’s always messaging me when she can, and she always sends me words of encouragement. She does as much as she can with the means she has, whether she’s here or not.
I appreciate it a lot, I’m very lucky.”
Even though it has been nine years since her sister stopped skating, Ing still misses her and tries to skate for her:
"I miss skating with her a lot. She encourages me but she also inspires me in so many ways. She was one of the most artistic skaters I knew and it was a shame the sport had to lose her.
So I’m really grateful when she tells me that she sees (in me) the kind of grace and artistry she loved in skating because it means I’m able to keep alive the dreams she had to let go of.
My sister had a hard time when she lost skating, but she’s always said that watching me skate with the grace she loved made it easier for her to move on — that means the world to me.
So whenever I skate, the spirit of her love and her grace is always in my heart, and it’s a part of my performance every time I step on the ice.
I like to think that I skate for the both of us now."
Chantelle has also sung Ing's praises many times before, and recently lauded her artistry in an Instagram post comparing her to figure skating legends Mao Asada, Michelle Kwan, Yuna Kim, and Mirai Nagasu.
Calling her sister one of her figure skating inspirations, Chantelle wrote:
"Losing skating was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But Chloe has made my healing and moving on so much easier. She has nurtured my childhood dream and in doing so, has become a cherished hope for me. She skates like my beautiful memories of the skating I fell in love with, and she has a dedication that keeps me strong too. I couldn't have ever asked for a better half."
View this post on Instagram
This is the person most special to me in my life. She's up there with all my figure skating inspirations: @michellewkwan, @maoasada2509, @yunakim, and @mirainagasu. What do they have in common? A special grace and beautiful musicality that sometimes gets lost among the growing focus on the technical. Often, this goes less recognized than I think it should be. Yet through it all, they continue on with a humble grace. But, what makes them really special to me is how they have saved me, my hope, and the kind of figure skating I fell in love with. 💛 . Losing skating was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But Chloe has made my healing and moving on so much easier. She has nurtured my childhood dream and in doing so, has become a cherished hope for me. She skates like my beautiful memories of the skating I fell in love with, and she has a dedication that keeps me strong too. I couldn't have ever asked for a better half. I'M ROOTING FOR YOU AT SEA GAMES!✨🥰 . . . #FigureSkating #TeamSingapore #SEAGames2019 #MichelleKwan #MaoAsada #YunaKim #MiraiNagasu #⛸
Responding to comments about living overseas
Many Singaporeans online have expressed their pride in Ing's accomplishments at SEA Games 2019 and the honour they have brought to Singapore.
However, there have also been netizens who have questioned whether she is a “true” Singaporean because she has lived and trained overseas for much of her life.
Ing admits that these comments sting:
“So, I mean, yeah. When people say these things... I mean, it hurts a little at first, because, you know, to me I've really always viewed Singapore as home.
Regardless of where I am, I always call Singapore home.”
She explains that her and her family’s decision for her to train overseas was influenced, to a great extent, by Ing's desire to represent Singapore to the best of her ability.
As a tropical country, Singapore’s winter sports scene wasn’t quite as developed, and Ing and her family felt that the facilities and coaching available to them in Canada were more abundant.
Ing adds, definitively:
“I chose to represent Singapore... so I decided, you know, if I really wanted to excel and represent my country to the best of my ability, this is one of the steps that would be most beneficial for me.”
Soh points out that Ing and other athletes like her who choose to pursue their dreams of representing their countries on the international stage work hard to reach those goals and deserve to be recognised too:
“You know, for Singaporeans, true Singaporeans, who choose to actually sacrifice... everything is done at their own cost.
When they go do something like that and then they bring honour for their country, they should be appreciated.”
Important to maintain ties to S'pore
And through our conversation, Ing's pride and love for Singapore shines very brightly indeed.
She explains to us that she comes back to Singapore at least once a year for the Singapore National Figure Skating Championships, and tries to return more often whenever she can.
It’s important for her to maintain her ties to Singapore, as her mother’s whole family, whom she regularly keeps in touch with through WhatsApp, still lives here.
And of course, there’s the food. Recalling how much she misses the food in Singapore, she exclaims, “There’s no place like home. There really isn’t!”
Ing happily lists out the local food that she has eaten in the four days since she came back to Singapore from Manila:
“I’ve had my char kway teow, my carrot cake, my Hokkien mee, my orh luak, my mee pok, my wanton mee, my… everything! My popiah, chwee kway... Old Chang Kee. Even Mr. Bean! I always miss Mr. Bean.”
Even something as simple as bread, Ing exclaims, is something that she misses in Toronto. She argues that the bread there is not as good as the bread back home.
Most importantly also, “You can’t get pandan cake over there!”
Ing loves pandan cake so much that her skating friends once joked that they should throw pandan cake onto the ice after her performances. She replied, “Please do! I’ll catch it!”
Having mostly been away, Ing does, however, admit that her Singlish is not quite there. “It’s sibei bad,” she says, laughing.
Ing says her immediate plans were to finish eating her way through Singapore for the next day-and-a-half (after meeting us), before flying back to Toronto to take her final exams.
Longer-term plans, though, are harder to say.
For most athletes, thoughts about retirement are hardly pleasant, yet these still sit stubbornly at the back of their minds.
This is especially true for female figure skaters, whose athletic careers are often short-lived, with few skating past their 20s.
For Ing, she believes in taking it one step at a time, instead of thinking too much about the future.
“We’re just going to take it as it comes, one step at a time, because there’s a lot to think about if I start thinking about the future too far ahead,” Ing shares.
And her next goal? To make it to the figure skating World Championships, in March 2020, held in Montreal.
While the ultimate goal for Ing is still the Olympics, taking it one step at a time may be wiser than overthinking matters.
Her next competition will be in less than two months, at the Four Continents Championships in Seoul, where she will take her shot at qualifying for the World Championships.
And she can be sure Singaporeans will be keeping a close eye, and pinning their hopes, on her progress.
Read more about Chloe Ing:
Top photos via Getty Images, Chloe Ing's Instagram account
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