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

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Getty Images

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!

Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation


Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.


She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mikaela Shiffrin ties Lindsey Vonn record at World Cup Finals


Mikaela Shiffrin tied Lindsey Vonn‘s female record with her 137th career Alpine skiing World Cup podium, taking third place in the slalom at the World Cup Finals in Andorra on Saturday.

Shiffrin, racing for the second time since breaking Ingemar Stenmark‘s career Alpine World Cup wins record last Saturday, finished 86 hundredths behind Olympic champion Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, combining times from two runs.

Shiffrin was fourth after the first run. The top two after the first run stayed in that order after the second run — Vlhova, followed by first-time podium finisher Leona Popovic (the best World Cup finish for a Croatian woman in 16 years).

“Every single race I feel the weight of having to be one of the best in the world no matter what the day is, which is actually quite a privilege, but some days it’s quite heavy,” Shiffrin said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “But today it didn’t feel heavy. It just felt like a really good opportunity.”

Six of the 22 skiers skied out of the second run on soft snow.

In Shiffrin’s previous race at the season-ending Finals, she was 14th in Thursday’s super-G, which is not one of her primary events.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin earned her 137th podium in her 248th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

The only men with more Alpine World Cup podiums are the Swede Stenmark (155) and Austrian Marcel Hirscher (138).

Shiffrin’s first chance to break her tie with Vonn comes in Sunday’s giant slalom, the last race of the season, live on Peacock.

Shiffrin, who broke Vonn’s female career wins record of 82 in January, clinched season titles in the overall, GS and slalom before the Finals.

Also Saturday, Swiss Marco Odermatt won the men’s giant slalom by 2.11 seconds — the largest margin of victory in any men’s World Cup race in four years — for his 13th World Cup victory this season, tying the men’s single-season record.

He also reached 2,042 points for the season, breaking Austrian Hermann Maier‘s men’s record of 2,000 points in one season from 1999-2000.

Slovenian Tina Maze holds the overall record of 2,414 points from 2012-13.

“We partied hard on Thursday,” after winning the World Cup Finals super-G, Odermatt said, according to FIS. “Today wasn’t easy because of those damn 2,000 points. I really wanted the podium today. So, another victory, two seconds ahead, I don’t know what to say.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!