Before Venus, Serena, Gaby and Simone (Biles or Manuel), there was Surya Bonaly.
I first saw Surya Bonaly when I was in fifth grade. I loved figure skating and was obsessed with triple axles. And in the early 1990’s I didn’t see anyone that looked like me.
I mean, she was the color of milk chocolate. She spoke French, and she did backflips on skates!
ICE SKATES MY DUDE, ICE SKATES! BACKFLIPS ON ICE SKATES!
I remember the first time I saw her on an ABC Figure Skating event, and I thought, “Wow!” I had no other word! Surya was a force of nature. And, aside from Debra Thomas here in the States, I saw no other figure skater that looked like me (I could only root for Kristi Yamaguchi so much!).
I remember how good she was. Like, she was GOOD. I remember when she lost the Gold Medal to Oxana Baiul in 1994. I remember when she would skate so much better, more athletic than any other (white) skater and would just miss medaling, or just miss National/World championships as a Gold medals.
I remember how judges would talk about her. How announcers would describe her: ‘exotic’, ‘unique’, ‘unrefined’. However, when I saw the recent Netflix documentary, LOSERS, and one of the speakers said what I thought was so interesting. This person said that ice skating is a sport that prizes ‘ice princesses.’ These ‘ice princesses’ are normally pretty, petite and…white.
Surya didn’t fit this.
But when Surya took off Bronze medal in 1992, when she outscored her nearest competitor, and still lost?! Bruh. As a grown woman now, and a young girl then, I knew what it looked like to be robbed and overlooked. These things happened to her constantly. When Tara Lupinski weighed in on this (from this same documentary!), she said how disrespectful it was that she took the medal off.
Tara could NEVER! Katerina Witt could NEVER! Oxana could NEVER!
I remember how powerful she was, and how thrilled I was to watch her skate. I remember how unapologetic she was. Surya was Black Girl Magic. The world missed giving her shine when she needed it. The glorious thing about the age of social media is the ability to have living records–often in real time.
Surya was not a figment of my imagination, nor other young Black girls of my age. She was real. She was amazing. And just like Serena, the world owes her an apology.
[images from Google]