Starr Andrews inspiring more figure skaters to be “Black Like Me”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Getty Images
0 Comments

A video of Starr Andrews skating to “Whip My Hair” when she was 9 years old has an astounding 56 million views on YouTube.

But it’s the 19-year-old’s performance to “Black Like Me,” which she posted online last summer, that attracted an admiring tweet from former first lady Michelle Obama and has allowed Andrews to express her athletic activism.

The program “honors the struggles that African Americans have and still are enduring,” Andrews said, adding that she related to the lyrics in the Mickey Guyton song.

“She says it’s a hard life for people of color,” Andrews said, “because we get racially profiled.”

As the top African American figure skater in 2021 – and the most accomplished of this century – Andrews has a through line back to Mabel Fairbanks, who was denied a chance to compete in the 1930s because of her race.

Fairbanks performed in ice shows and went on to a career as a U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame coach. She died in 2001 at age 85, when Andrews was just 3 months old. But one of Fairbanks’ pupils, Olympian and world pairs champion Tai Babilonia, became a mentor to Andrews in the Los Angeles area when she was a pre-teen.

“She used to tell me all the time about Mabel,” Andrews said, “and some pointers Mabel told her she would relay to me.

“She would tell me to always keep my head up and Tai taught me how to bow – just really small details, but the smallest details make the biggest difference.”

Now Fairbanks’ legacy is making a direct contribution to Andrews’ training – and it could make all the difference in her quest to become an Olympian.

Last month Andrews received the first grant from the Mabel Fairbanks Skatingly Yours Fund, which was established to support the training and development of promising figure skaters who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

The top award is $25,000, which this year has been matched by U.S. Figure Skating corporate partner Guaranteed Rate for a total of $50,000.

“It just opens a lot more doors for me to get more ice time, more lessons and take more ballet classes and Pilates and off-ice classes,” said Andrews, who has been working on adding a triple Axel and a quadruple jump to her repertoire. “The more technically difficult my program is, the higher I will rise in the ranks.”

Atoy Wilson, the executor of Fairbanks’ estate, believes Andrews was the “perfect choice” for the scholarship, which is named after the way Fairbanks would sign autographs – “Skatingly Yours.”

“Starr is the leading African American person of color in that rank,” said Wilson, who was coached by Fairbanks and became the first Black skater to compete at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1965, and the first Black national champion a year later when he won the novice division.

“We’ve seen her grow and nurture herself into really becoming a very, very good skater,” Wilson said. “And knowing that she’s moving into the world level of skating, it takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of time and initiative with that – and she had it.”

Andrews was sixth at nationals in 2018 and 2020, the top finish by a Black female at the senior level since Andrea Gardiner placed fifth in 2000.

Wilson said that Andrews is not only confident on the ice, “She’s confident with who she is. That performance that she did, the great tribute to Black Lives Matter, I think there’s a consciousness that’s there, and to me that registers an identity that Mabel had about herself.”

Wilson said that if Fairbanks had a hand in coaching Andrews, she would be “ecstatic” and would urge her to give 120 percent.

“She would really be in there, whispering into her ear,” he said. “Derrick Delmore is the coach, but Mabel would be on the side going, ‘Listen kid, you’ve got the talent. Go for it. Be aggressive. Skate like it’s your last performance. Put everything in there.’ That’s the way that Mabel taught us. That was the way that she really integrated her vibrancy into us.”

Wilson and Babilonia are developing a biopic about Fairbanks, who would give lessons for free if students couldn’t afford them and she saw that they “had the determination and the concentration and that drive,” Wilson said. “She wouldn’t just give it you; you had to show it to her that you had the initiative to do it.”

In 1986, three African American skaters who at one time had been coached by Fairbanks – Debi Thomas, Rory Flack and Bobby Beauchamp – competed at nationals and won medals. Thomas was the senior women’s champion and Flack and Beauchamp made the podium at the junior level.

By the time Andrews came along, however, she saw no African American skaters to emulate. She recognizes that her success can help attract more people of color to the ice.

“Usually when I’m at nationals I have a couple of little Black girls come up to me, and I’m so touched when they say that I’m their inspiration,” she said. “It makes me so happy because I didn’t really see an African American skater at the time when I was watching it on the TV when I was 10, 11 or 12.

“I feel like there’s a lot of BIPOC people out there with a lot of talent, but the sport is just so expensive, it’s really hard to continue. And being subjective, it’s kind of hard to get into it.”

Andrews began skating when she was 4. Her mother Toshawa was an adult skater who wanted to pass on her passion for the sport, and she did.

“I just feel really free when I’m skating and l fell in love with how the wind felt in my face and just everything about it,” Andrews said.

Because of the pandemic last year, Andrews couldn’t practice from March to May. Those three months were her longest stretch off the ice since missing four weeks with an injury.

Andrews had a hard time regaining her stamina and getting her jumps back. After competing often in the 2019-20 season, she had only two in-person events on her schedule in 2020-21. At Skate America, where she placed eighth, Andrews said, “I feel like I kind of forgot what it felt like to compete, so I was more nervous than I usually would be. That was a new feeling for me as well.”

Competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, Andrews faltered in the short program, placing 17th, which was last among the women. She was 10th in the free skate to pull up to 12th overall.

“I think that I was very fortunate to get out and compete and I just have to keep practicing to not have a program like that again,” Andrews said.

She regained her footing in February with a couple of career highlights. On Feb. 7, a clip of Andrews appeared in the Guaranteed Rate Super Bowl commercial and a day later Michelle Obama linked to the “Black Like Me” video, writing “Wow! Thank you @SkatingStarr – this is such a powerful performance. To all the Black kids out there striving for excellence in the face of those who doubt you: Keep going. Keep telling the story of your experience. We see you.”

Andrews said she has no clue how the former first lady became aware of the program, which she put together in three days for the Peggy Fleming Trophy last July. Andrews’ mother and coaches suggested she record it because it was so beautiful. They decided to put it online in the wake of the demonstrations for justice and racial equality, with various versions garnering more than 150,000 views.

Toshawa sent her daughter a screenshot of the Obama tweet while she was getting ready to put on her skates for practice. Andrews then sat in her chair frozen for 5 minutes. “I thought it was fake at first,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it, I mean, Michelle Obama saw my program! That’s so incredible.”

While Wilson said he is pleased that Andrews has been getting recognition, he said his experience shows that expectations are higher for people of color. “The proof of the pudding is out there on that ice,” he said.

If Andrews does make it to the Olympic or world team, Wilson said it will influence younger skaters “immensely.”

“When you see someone of your own kind out there,” he said, “someone who has done brilliantly, it’s always an initiative, it’s always an inspiration, it’s always that moment you say, ‘I can do this. If she can do it, I can do it.’”

Sadly, in the 1930s Fairbanks wasn’t allowed to do it because she was Black.

Andrews said that when Babilonia told her about Fairbanks’ history with racism, “I didn’t understand why [her color] was such a huge deal that she couldn’t compete. Because the sport isn’t just for one person. It’s for everybody.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

0 Comments

Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
Getty
0 Comments

Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!