Despite a culture that didn’t know what to make of the retired Bl-ack figure skater, she was the first woman to attempt quadruples during an Olympic competition. When Surya Bonaly began her ice skating career in the early 1990s while growing up in France, she didn’t have any local role models that looked like her.
She would often glance around the rink as a Black girl adopted from an orphanage in Nice by white parents and realize she was the only skater of color in numerous European events.
“I wish there was someone who could have done that for me back in the day,” Bonaly told TODAY. “Always someone needs to be the first to do something. I didn’t have that, therefore I had to be the one to represent Europe.”
Way ahead of her time
Bonaly, 48, was not only a Black forerunner in a largely white sport, but she was also ahead of her time on the rink in terms of the tre-mendous endurance that is today required to reach the top of the sport. Bonaly exe-cuted a four-revolution leap at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, making her the first woman to try a quadruple jump in Olympic figure skating. It didn’t tally for points since she was ruled to have under-rotated it, but it demonstrated the potential of a game where elegance and beauty frequently outweighed athleticism.
It took thirty years for a lady to land another quad leap in the free skate at the Olympics, but a slew of them accomplished so this month in Beijing, including Russian Olympic gold champion Anna Shcherbakova. On Thursday, she completed a pair of quad jumps as part of her winning free skate performance, while her ROC colleague Alexandra Trusova took silver with five quad jumps of her own.
Bonaly’s achievements in Beijing constitute the conclusion of a career spanning decades. “It’s incredible to believe it took 30 years for it to happen at the Olympics,” Bonaly added. Bonaly became a five-time European champion and a three-time silver medalist in the World Championships because of his inner fi-re. It’s also what drove her to give everything she had to a sport that didn’t always love her back, whether it was officials grading her abilities, analysts using r-cialized phrases like “exotic,” or rivals baffled by the Bl-ack skater in bright outfits.
Bonaly’s mother, Suzanne, encouraged her to participate in a variety of activities as a child, including fencing, dancing, swimming, acrobatics, and ice skating. Her gymnastics skills proved to be useful in the gymnastic feats she would later perform on the ice. At the time, the only other notable B*ack singles skater was American Debi Thomas, who won bronze in the 1988 Olympics. Bonaly liked Thomas as a fellow Bl-ack woman in the sport, but she admired Midori Ito much more.
At the 1988 Olympics, the 4-foot-9 Japanese powerhouse was compact, quick, and powerful, landing seven triple jumps during her free skate.
“I’d watch footage of her over and over, mimicking her routine at every practice,” Bonaly said. “She was a fantastic jumper.” Midori Ito does not have the conventional (fi-gure skating) b-ody of being incredibly slender, which was not particularly popular at the time. “She was really beefy and a dynamite on the ice, and she gave me hope that I could be like her.” She made it easier for people to become accustomed to seeing individuals of color compete at a high level.”
Bonaly rose to prominence in France rapidly, winning her first of nine national titles at the age of 15 in 1989 while training on her quad jump.
She was adamant about perfecting the challenging maneuver, even if it meant enduring excruciating falls in practice at a period when there were no cutting-edge healing therapies available.
Dilemma at big stage
She debated with her trainer in practice on whether or not to attempt a quad leap in her free skate performance at the 1992 Olympics. He recommended against it because he was concerned about how it would be perceived, but she went ahead and did it anyway because there was one group whose support she craved the most: the audience. “I can’t anticipate politics or judges,” she explained. “It wasn’t my domain.” “All I wanted to do was encourage people to clap and get out of their seats and put on a performance.”
She performed seven triple leaps with a triple combo at the 1993 World Championships, whereas Ukrainian skater Oksana Baiul completed five triple long jumps with no repetitions, yet Baiul won gold. “It was a f-ght to be the greatest and to outperform the winner, who was white,” Bonaly explained.
“I needed to be better than the average skater.” Every day was a struggle, but in some ways, it felt like a wonderful objective to achieve every night.” In a fit of rage, she removed her silver medal from the podium during the medal ceremony. While the other two skaters waved to the fans, tears streamed down her face as she stayed still on the stage.
Where is the next Surya Bonaly?
Skaters like Bonaly and Thomas have appeared more like anomalies than representatives of the next generation of skaters in the years since their peak. There were none on the US squad that competed in Beijing this year. “It’s true that figure skating might deter you because it’s a costly sport,” Bonaly added. “It’s quite pricey, especially in America, where you have to pay from your own pocket for your own private tutoring.”
It’s high time for more black folks to get involved in this sport and help America reach new heights. The government and sport authorities should develop a policy to promote a large number of individuals to participate in this sport.