by Anne Calder | Photo courtesy Jackie Wong
Jackie Wong is a popular social media skating journalist, known for his live tweets of competitive program elements and scores. His play-by-play commentating is the gold standard for accuracy and technical precision in the sport. Wong also co-hosts IceTalk Podcast and is an Ice Desk commentator.
The multi-talented analyst, who also maintains a full time job outside skating, recently shared his thoughts on a variety of topics.
You grew up in warm Southern California. What made you choose ice-skating as a sport?
Figure skating is and had always been strangely big in Southern California, though, I’m not sure if locale and sport rally came into mind when I started skating. I was always a bit of a restless kid (a theme you hear a lot from athletes in general, I think), so I was jumping around the living room and annoying my parents enough that they finally agreed to take me to the rink. And luckily, there are plenty of rinks in LA.
How did you approach learning to jump? Were you analytical of your own technique as a beginner? What USFS tests did you pass?
I started off jumping with horrendous technique. It’s one of the reasons that technique has become something I focus on now with my skating analysis and years ago when I was a coach. When I was jumping around the living room as a kid, I learned how to rotate, but in a completely wrong way. And so, as old habits die hard, every one of my coaches tried to fix my technique and get me on the right track. But to this day, every time I take years off the ice, I come back having to re-fix my technique. I’ve been very conscious of body alignment and timing for a long time because of it, but alas, I can’t figure out without a coach there telling me what I’m doing because old habits always creep back.
My skating “career” was very nontraditional, in that I was skating a long time without doing any tests, because I had no real intention of competing. I started USFS tests completely from the bottom in college and got through juvenile and was starting to work on intermediate the last couple months of senior year. But post-skating life was calling. You never know if there will be more tests in my future though.
Your first job in skating was with Examiner.com. How did being a skater, judge and coach influence your writing?
I think being a skating fan first and foremost through the lens of an actual skater/judge/coach has shaped the way that I write about skating. Without the first, I wouldn’t quite have the passion and the interest. Without the second, I wouldn’t quite have the credibility and the confidence in what I’m talking about.
For sure, having been a skater for almost three decades of my life now and because I jumped from city to city, learning from different coaches and different schools of coaching, it’s given me a different perspective on how I watch skating that I would otherwise not have. I started writing because I thought there was a void to be filled in skating journalism – little did I know [what] social media would become.
After a successful career in architecture you returned to Penn (Wharton) for an MBA. Explain the career change and the birth of Rocker Skating as a business school project.
I spent about a decade in architecture – it was a great time and I grew a lot in a field that I never thought I would be part of. It’s strange to think that I started out in college thinking I would do something more numbers-oriented, and then I made a pretty sudden move into a design field. I knew it would be a career that I would be in forever, so business school was my way of spreading my wings and opening up as many opportunities as possible while I still could.
During my time at Wharton, I was still keeping up with my writing for Examiner.com, but I saw the writing on the wall and knew that their business model wasn’t particularly sustainable. And by that point, I felt like I had enough of an audience that creating my own brand would be more valuable than staying on a platform that wasn’t particularly interested in figure skating. Somehow, it turned into a project in a social media class that I was taking, and a couple of months later, Rocker Skating was an actual thing.
Today, jumping phenoms are dominating men’s ice-skating. Where will this technical direction take the sport? Should jumps be scaled back and artistic quality be rewarded more?
This discussion of technical advances and the perceived setback in artistic quality has been a thing for decades. The technical direction is as it’s always been – upward – only that the first wave of quads in the 80’s and 90’s was more skaters throwing themselves in the air and hoping something would happen, versus now, where there’s a more solid understanding of how to prepare themselves to jump and rotate. This is a sport, and the frontier will always be pushed – though I do think we are hitting a stasis again with a steady state of quads in the men’s event.
There’s a bit of an availability bias here when people talk about skating of years past being more artistic or having more substance. We forget the days when skaters did a whole circle of power crossovers to set up for a triple axel, or the days when spins were five revolutions long, or the days when everyone seems to just skate to the same set of classical pieces.
There are certainly parts of skating that look repetitive because certain requirements make it tough for choreographers to go outside the box for every single skater. But the inventiveness of choreographers and skaters has never been better – thanks in great part to the general modernization of music and what good skating looks like.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the future of figure skating? Why?
The thing that I’m uncertain of is what figure skating fandom will be like post-Yuzu. He’s brought a lot of new fans to the sport – both in Japan and from all over the world. He’s an icon and larger than life, and it’s tough to see anyone else fitting that mold after he retires from competitive skating. There isn’t necessarily any preparation for that, and I think we will all feel a bit of a shock as a figure skating community when it happens.
Fans voice concern that the technical panels have less control over the skaters’ scores, with too much being given to the judges. What are your thoughts?
Technical panels are the ones who establish the base value of everything that a skater does even before the judges get into how well those elements were executed, so it’s tough to imagine anyone with more power that they do.
You bring an amazing resume to ice-skating coverage. Of all your experiences, what most has influenced your method of reporting?
Being a skater has absolutely influenced the way that I cover skating the most. There’s something to the empathy I automatically have for skaters when they are on the ice – partially because I was never all that great at performing in front of people. I get what it’s like to be self-conscious and overthink everything I do on the ice. It’s something I continue to try to improve to this day. I can’t imagine how different I would be in my coverage if I never skated before – a foundational understanding of a skater’s technique is one thing, an emotional understanding of a skater’s mindset is another.
Do you think ice-skating rules and scoring are too complicated for the occasional live or television viewer? If so, what could be done to assist the viewing audience?
Sure it is, but so are the rules of most sports. Fans of most sports talk about how complicated the rules of their sport are and say it’s easy to fix. 6.0 was, in theory, simple to understand, but the actual lack of transparency (relative to IJS) made it harder to be credible.
Do you think some single skaters or pairs and dance teams get scored on their reputations and why?
It’s still a subjective sport – even if it’s much less so than it used to be – and judges are human. You can’t not be in awe of some of the things that the very best in the world do. I wish reputation scoring wasn’t as much of a thing, but when it’s all said and done, the actual standings generally pan out as they should.
Your professional life seems so planned. Did you set a goal, and then methodically take steps to reach it, or did opportunity knock on your door at the right time?
Funny that it seems planned from the outside. I have planned very little (or at least consciously speaking). I just think I got pretty lucky a bunch of times.
You are the eyes and ears for the Internet audience. Your background has trained you to be analytical. Yet, you don’t allow that to interfere with your presentation. Explain your mind-set.
I am, first and foremost, a fan of the sport. I have been for almost 30 years. My excitement for the sport is just as important as my technical background. Having both of those, help me be both human and credible.
If you could switch places with any skater (singles, pairs or ice-dance) for one performance, who would it be, for what event and why?
I would want to be Aljona Savchenko in the free skate at the 2018 Olympics. The combination of perfection, fight, and history – you can’t beat that.
Your coverage of ice dance has increased and you seem more comfortable discussing it. How has that happened, and what do you find the most intriguing about the discipline?
I don’t think I was ever not comfortable discussing it – I just didn’t really know how to fit it into what I do with singles and pairs, which is a lot more play-by-play. It’s easy to call the jumps and throws; it’s harder to translate a step sequence into a tweet.
That said, I was a singles skater, not an ice dancer. I did some solo dance for intercollegiate skating so even that gave me an appreciation of what a different skillset ice dancers have. For me, the thing that draws me into ice dancing is just how good these skaters are. I remember being on the ice with Shae-Lynn Bourne when I did my mini-documentary of Ashley Wagner’s La La Land free skate, and I was just floored by the automatic way that Shae moved on the ice. Everything had gravitas to it. I wish I had 2% of the skating quality she has.
It has been suggested that ice dancing is not athletic nor is it a sport and should be removed from the Olympics. How would you respond?
What are your thoughts on changing the citizenship rules for Olympic pairs and ice-dance competition to require only one team member to have citizenship to represent a country?
Citizenship is a tricky thing because every country is different in its strictness. In my ideal world, both skaters would have to be citizens, but all countries [would] have the same process and requirements for citizenship. It’s all about expectations setting – if they know what they are getting into, then they can make the decision as to whether or not to get into it. We’d have less of the heartbreak that we’ve seen a few times in the past Olympics.
You can follow Jackie’s adventures via RockerSkating.com or @rockerskating on Twitter or Instagram.