It’s impossible to ignore the whiff of racism in the U.S. Figure Skating federation’s decision to market its Olympic rivalry as one between two women who are skating dopplegangers, sharing the silky blond hair, white skin, snub noses, and lean, willowy physiques of classic ice queens.
Despite the fact that a number of its most visible champions have been women of color—Kristi Yamaguchi, Debi Thomas, Kwan—figure skating has always been a sport defined by whiteness. The first-ever black pair in the history of the sport (France’s Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur) debuted at 2010 Olympics; the bronze medalists at those same Games were Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the first interracial pairs skaters. France’s Surya Bonaly, a three-time world silver medalist and five-time European champion, was legendarily at odds with both judges and audiences due to her “aggressive” style and strongly muscled physique—Serena Williams before Serena Williams.
And it’s hard to forget that back in 1998, when Lipinski rocketed out of relative obscurity to win gold over Kwan, MSNBC chose the baffling, incorrect “American Beats Out Kwan” as its headline.