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Vanessa James proud to be a trailblazer for aspiring Black figure skaters

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Breaking down barriers: Vanessa James, right, competing for Canada alongside figure skating partner Eric Radford at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China (Photograph courtesy of IOC)

Vanessa James has spoken of her pride of being a trailblazer for future generations of Black figure skaters.

James, whose father Kevin is Bermudian, and lived on island until age 10 when she moved to the United States, is competing for Canada in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China — her fourth appearance on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Having, herself followed in the footsteps of the likes of prominent figures Surya Bonaly, Rory Flack and Debbie Thomas to pursue a career in the sport, the 34-year-old is hoping she can be that same inspirational representation, for any aspiring Black figure skaters.

“I may be the only Black figure skater at the Olympics, which is an honour and a privilege and I feel so proud to be a trailblazer for young Black girls and boys in figure skating,” said James speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I can use Surya Bonaly as an example, who was an incredible role model for Black athletes. She went through discrimination and injustice throughout her career and she persevered.

“She was an icon for all Black figure skaters, but she also broke down those barriers for skaters, like myself, to be able to skate without as many road blocks.

“I have to thank Surya and Rory Flack and Debbie Thomas. Those were beautiful Black women that had to go through these injustices, so that we could live and skate in a more equal environment,” she said.

“I didn’t realise that being Black was rare in figure skating because I had all of these examples and I looked up to them. I didn’t feel it until I got to a higher level and there was nobody like me.

“I want to be an example that they don’t only have to exist in this sport but can excel.

“Representation is everything. If I wasn’t here today, there would be no Black skaters at all, and children at home would be wondering if this sport was for them.”

James was speaking ahead of the pairs skate discipline of the team skate at the Capital Indoor Stadium, in central Beijing, on Monday, in which Canada agonisingly missed out on a medal.

Competing alongside Eric Radford, the duo, performing to Falling by Harry Styles, finished fourth with a score of 130.07, about a point short of their season’s best.

“In this case, we knew we weren’t fighting for a medal,” James said after the skate. “So it was really about making our team proud, our parents.

“My dream for Beijing is to skate my best. I’ve been through so many years of trying to be perfect for someone else so I feel like being true to who I am and living the moment, in the Olympic dream for my country is my dream.”

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier took third in the ice dance, while 18-year-old Madeline Schizas placed third after smashing her season’s best in the women’s free skate with a flawless performance, putting Canada in fourth place overall.

The Russian Olympic Committee clinched what was the first skating gold of the Games, ahead of the United States and Japan, after a close-fought final day of performances.

Hosts China had to settle for a disappointing fifth place overall as despite performing strongly in several events, especially the pairs, the overall score was ultimately dragged down by a poor routine from Zhu Yi in the women’s free skate.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on a first Olympic medal, James took the opportunity to single out compatriot Schizas for particular praise, who had the added pressure of competing later in the line-up, when Canada looked unlikely to qualify for the final, prior to her stellar women’s short programme performance.

“She as so nervous because she knew it was make or break, said James on Schizas having to deal with the unfavourable extra dimension of the team event.

“We told her to focus on herself, hone in on how she wants to perform and the rest is just, it doesn’t even matter, but she killed it and we’re so proud of her.”

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Published February 09, 2022 at 7:39 am (Updated February 10, 2022 at 8:06 am)

Vanessa James proud to be a trailblazer for aspiring Black figure skaters

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