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U.S. Figure Skater Jimmy Ma


Fordham University


U.S. Figure Skater Jimmy Ma

From Fordham to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Madeline Johnson


Read time: 6 minutes.
Photography by Jess Mingrino

Fresh off the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, national athlete Jimmy Ma covered his face in humble embarrassment as his mother showed a YouTube clip of his viral program to our waitress at The Bronx Beer Hall. He groaned as she looked up at him excitedly, and he proceeded to laugh as his mom continued to pass the video around the bar. Referred to by Cosmopolitan as “a bad boy figure skating angel”, Ma might have to get used to the attention.

After two and a half semesters commuting to Fordham’s Rose Hill campus from New Jersey, Ma moved to Dallas, where he’s been training with a group he refers to as being “as close-knit as a family”. Ma made national waves in early January at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships when he skated his program to a hip hop-electronic dance mix of Turn Down For What by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, and DJ Snake’s Propaganda. He placed eleventh overall in the Championship, and his program went viral.

Having to go straight from practice to the Championships, Ma laughed as he remembered how nervous he was prior to his program. All of his nerves dissipated when he got to the ice and thought, “This is meant to be. I’m supposed to be here. I can do something with this.” And he did. During his program he skated, “One jump after the other after the other, and then the bass dropped and it dipped down, and then the (music) crescendoed into Turn Down For What and I could hear the people getting into it and I thought ‘Ok this is my chance to bank on this’".

"I had to give it 150,000%. I gave the audience something, and they gave me back a little bit, and then I gave them everything.”

He got his personal best overall score of 222.41 at Championships, and said that as soon as he got off the ice, “I was like ‘holy shit’. I did what I came to do. There could have been improvements, but I was really happy with what I put on the table. Right then I just wanted to go back and crack a beer with my friend and watch Netflix.”

At the 2017 U.S. Championships the Real Slim Shady stood up with Ma skating to a mashup of Eminem songs. While the audience and social media had an overwhelming positive reaction, he wasn’t sure if it resonated with the judges, and considered taking a step back. His coach pushed back, and Ma remembers him saying, “Oh no fuck that, we’re going to take another step forward. Last year was step one, now you have to go on to step two, three, four; we’re not going backwards. We’re going to listen to more music, you’re going to go to hip hop classes, we’re going to do more dancing.”

“I had to get comfortable. Even if I got a bit of side eye from someone who didn’t like the music, I just couldn’t give a shit about that. We [Ma and his coach] just had to keep on moving forward, and every single competition I had to look back and say ‘where could I have placed more emphasis on movements’ and ‘where could I have held back a little bit’ and ‘where should I just go ham’.”

Ma’s bringing in a broader audience to the sport, explaining that, “It’s nice to have someone flip through their channels and say ‘Oh, some little Asian kid is dancing to Turn Down For What! Oh snap! Skating can be cool!’ but then after that they stay for the people that do represent the sport, like Vincent (Zhou), and Nathan (Chen)...Hopefully in the coming year or two I’m the one that’s also representing the sport as they are.”

“Figure skating is very classical, very balletic. And I totally respect that. I used to do ballet, I was a classically trained pianist...It’s an art. You have to be able to push the boundaries. It’s a sport, it’s extreme, and you have to have fun with it. Hopefully after this year more people, especially judges, will (realize that) this brings in a new audience, it works, it may not work with everybody, but it works for this kid. Hopefully it opens their eyes a bit more.”

Ma’s performance was choreographed by Nikolai Morozov, who is known to be out of the box and very unconventional. Morozov has choreographed some of the “all time greats in their own right”. One of these is Daisuke Takahashi’s hip-hop swan lake “Cyber Swan” that Morozov personally mixed. He also choreographed Florent Amodio’s program to Imma Be, with Amodio going on to win the 2011 European Championships.

During his week-long vacation in New York, in addition to visiting the Bronx, Ma was in a rapper’s music video. Most importantly, he was able to see his mom. He attributes his success to her. When he was a kid, his mom wanted to keep him busy, claiming that for every 60 seconds, he had 72 movements. Ma was occupied with ballet, swimming, and classical piano, going on to perform at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Of being a concert pianist, “I look back at it, and it was a big part of my life. And I’m thankful that my mom, like, freaking, tiger momed me on that...I didn’t see it back then, but it was something to calm myself. And understanding music, I realized that it’s helped me with everything else I’ve done.”

So what’s next for Ma? After the conclusion of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, he will get to work on planning his next program. “I’ve set a bar for myself that I can’t go under, but still I don’t want to pressure myself, I want to have fun with it...I’m thinking about music, I’m listening to everything.”

“Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be this...but as you grow as a person your thought process changes. So right now my goal in life is to keep learning. Becoming a better athlete everyday, but also becoming a better man everyday...I’m working hard on and off the ice.”