Jackie Wong: the polymath who is a "life saver" for figure skating

Masthead of Jackie Wong's web site.

Masthead of Jackie Wong's web site.

On Wednesday night, Jackie Wong plans to go to bed in his Manhattan apartment at 9 p.m. Wong will set his alarm for 1 a.m. Thursday to be up and alert in time for his volunteer labor of love, as he covers the men's short program at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan.

He will work on that and other Grand Prix Final events until about 9 a.m. Thursday, then nap for an hour before moving on to the client services job for which he is paid. He will be back to skating, with the senior ladies short program at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, at about 4:30 p.m.

His Friday schedule will be a little less taxing, with the same bedtime but a 3 a.m. wakeup. Saturday will allow him to focus only on figure skating.

Wong's willingness to burn the candle at both ends -- and his technical and historical knowledge of the sport -- have helped make him the most unequivocally appreciated reporter in the world of figure skating.

This business consultant and former architect is the walking, talking, typing, tweeting, blogging and figure skating definition of a polymath. That he uses all those skills, sometimes simultaneously, to share his wisdom freely and provide up-to-the-second information about skating competitions reflects an intellect, work ethic and generosity of spirit that inspires no small degree of awe in anyone who has worked alongside him at an event.

Follow @rockerskating on Twitter later this week, and you will find his near instantaneous play by play, with remarks on execution, of each jump in every skater's program at the Grand Prix Final, taking place 14 hours ahead of where he will be watching the event. He also intends to report some on the Golden Spin in Croatia, some six hours ahead of East Coast time.

Wong's play-by-play reports are strikingly accurate, despite the fact that he usually is watching on a laptop, takes no written notes and posts them without seeing replays. (He includes spins only if they are flawed.) In most cases, he follows immediately with a tweet giving the score and an occasional related tidbit. Wong does not even use a pen in his coverage, typing on either two computers or one computer and an iPad, in the case that a press table doesn't allow room for two laptops.

Soon after each phase of a competition ends, go to his website, rockersskating.com, and you will find video he has downloaded on the fly to accompany most of the play-by-play accounts. Return to the site a day or two after the competition, and you will find summary analyses.

Seizing upon opportunities provided by social media, Wong has created a unique way to cover the sport. His work has led many figure skaters to be effusive in their expressions of gratitude.

"His work and quality journalism on social media takes a lot of time and effort, which is why, up to this point, no one has gone to the lengths to provide the type of coverage that Jackie does," Alex Shibutani, a 2014 Olympian and three-time world medalist in ice dance with sister Maia, wrote in an email.


"Jackie is our life saver, literally," Maé-Bérénice Méité, the three-time French ladies champion, wrote in an email. "If we want the final results (and) some information about what happened during the competition, the first place I'm going is definitely Jackie's Twitter. I know I won't be the only one to say that the figure skating world wouldn't have the same flavor without Jackie in it."

Working at Skate America (Jay Adeff photo)

Working at Skate America (Jay Adeff photo)

And this, a text from 2014 U.S. Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown, who, like the Shibutanis, is competing at the Grand Prix Final: "He's a great advocate for our sport, and it's obvious that he really cares about the athletes. Since skating is often difficult to access live, it's fantastic that Jackie provides professional commentary in real time any place social media is available. We're lucky to have someone of his caliber so invested in our sport."

This caliber: Wong, 35, has designed major buildings for the King Abdullah financial district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and for Kuwait University. He has worked for one of the world's leading architectural firms, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and now is an associate at one of the world's leading consulting firms, McKinsey & Company. He has a bachelor's degree in economics and urban studies from Stanford, a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and an MBA from Penn's Wharton School.

Wong also is working on getting all his double jumps back in what he calls his "second renaissance as a skater."

Because, clearly, the man doesn't already have enough on his plate.


A California newspaper that did a story about Wong when he was one of the San Fernando Valley's top high school achievers described his family history as a "Cold War odyssey."

His maternal and paternal grandparents left southern China during the Cultural Revolution for Vietnam, where his parents, May and John, were born and met in high school. May and John left during the Vietnam War for Hong Kong, where Jackie, their only child, was born in 1982, and the three of them left Hong Kong for the United States in 1991 to get out before Hong Kong's then forthcoming return to China.

His first exposure to figure skating was from telecasts of the 1992 World Championships in Oakland. Intrigued by athletes rotating in the air and landing on one foot, Wong would imitate them in his living room, and he soon began skating lessons. By his own admission, his fascination quickly became an obsession,

After giving up skating during his final two years of high school for financial reasons, he started again at Stanford. He got a job both to pay for lessons in San Jose and also for a car to take him to and from the rink. (Wong recalls having mastered, at that point, all the double jumps and a triple salchow.) He passed the U.S. Figure Skating juvenile tests (they are based on skill level, not age) and began doing some coaching himself. He also has been a judge.

"I knew I wasn't a great skater, but I knew what good technique was," he said.

At Stanford, he helped found a skating team that qualified twice for the U.S. Intercollegiate Team Figure Skating Championships, and he later co-founded a team at Penn with Rusty Fein, who finished fourth in pairs at the 2006 U.S. Championships with Tiffany Scott.

After 10 years away from training, Wong returned to the ice last December. With the help of coach Jonathon Hunt, he has re-mastered two of his doubles.

Wong began writing about figure skating in 2009 for the now-defunct examiner.com, doing rudimentary recaps of competitions. He soon realized that kind of writing was not adding to discourse about the sport and did not play to his strengths, namely analysis and live play by play, the latter of which was a perfect fit for Twitter.

"That was the void that needed to be filled," he said.

Wong had left architecture in 2013 when he discovered he loved its creative side but not its work environment. His second major project for SOM, a multi-purpose administration building at Kuwait University on which he was senior designer, remains a source of great satisfaction.

"As an architect, you want to design a concert hall or museum or library or a ceremonial building," Wong said. "I was able to do seven of those buildings in that one project. It was a project 99 percent of architects dream about. It left me feeling I've had a career in architecture."

So he moved on to his next challenge, a career in business. By the time Wong was finishing his studies at Wharton in 2015, he had built a following of skating fans, coaches, officials and athletes on Twitter and wanted to see if he could build a brand.

That led to the creation of Rocker Skating as a business school project. The site went live in the summer of 2015 and soon attracted a sponsor, John Wilson Blades, which covers some of his expenses.

"During the (2014) Sochi Olympics, people saw I had accuracy and that they could rely on me for reports," he said. "That's when I realized it is one thing to cover sporadically and another to do it week after week, so people would know you are doing it."

The 2016 World Championships in Boston provided the biggest exposure for him -- and also left Wong feeling obligated to his thousands of new followers. He spends 25-30 hours a week on skating during the height of the Grand Prix season, including his work as a host on the icenetwork podcast Ice Talk. In the off-season, he might cover what programs skaters are planning for the new season and analyze standout performances from the past.

At right: the Muqarnas Tower under construction in King Abdullah financial district in Riyadh, Saudi, Arabia. Wong was the building's design architect (Jackie Wong photo)

At right: the Muqarnas Tower under construction in King Abdullah financial district in Riyadh, Saudi, Arabia. Wong was the building's design architect (Jackie Wong photo)

According to figures Wong provided in screenshots, Rocker Skating drew 160,000 page views and 36,000 unique visitors in November, and his tweets had 18.4 million impressions in the month, with some 25 percent of both coming from the skating hotbed of Japan. For a niche sport like figure skating, those are solid metrics.

"I am absolutely surprised by the numbers," he said. "I always knew there was a cadre of fans who would take to what I do, but I am frankly surprised it has continued to grow the way it has."

His work schedule in client services for McKinsey fortunately dovetails with the Friday-though-Sunday schedules of most Grand Prix and Challenger Series events. He took unpaid leave to attend the 2017 World Championships in Finland, where he barely slept (or ate) while he covered a seemingly endless number of practice sessions in addition to the competition itself.

"I wonder if this were my job, and I needed to be scrappy to make ends meet, if that would be as enjoyable," he said.

Wong's analyses are often critical of systemic flaws and problems in skating, particularly those related to the judging system. He reports uncritically on individual skaters' failings, other than to note mistakes like falls or weak landings or under-rotations. He sometimes treads a line between fan and reporter, and, when the line blurs, he remains true to facts -- but unapologetically on the skaters' side.

"That attitude about criticism comes from my being a skater and having insecurities as a performer," he said. "I come from two different sides of artistry -- a skater and a designer as an architect. I know what it is like to put your hard work into something you are showing to the world and baring your vulnerabilities to the world. It's always tough getting critiques, even if they are objective. I will poke fun at things but not make them personal."

Being a skater also makes him familiar with clues that help him quickly report that an athlete likely under-rotated a jump or took off on the wrong edge. Take, for example, reigning U.S. champion Karen Chen's free skate at Skate America: Wong's play by play, posted seconds after the performance ended, noted the same two under-rotations and the edge question the official protocol showed with the benefit of replay.

"He's extremely knowledgeable on skating and all of the skaters," Michael Weiss, the three-time U.S. champion and two-time world medalist, sent in a text message. "He loves skating and provides a valuable resource for the skating community."

Encomiums like that from skaters and positive feedback from fans keep increasing Wong's love for skating.

"Rocker Skating now is a huge part of my life," he said. "It sustains me."

That seems only fair, given how much Jackie Wong is doing to help sustain the sport.

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)