French figure skater Surya Bonaly, a five-time European champion who is still hoping for that elusive Olympic gold, gave her fans what they wanted.
With a broad smile, she skated backward and flawlessly tumbled head-over-heels in midair to the delight of a handful of spectators who came to watch her work out.
Bonaly has been training - and occasionally performing her signature back flip - at the as-yet unfinished Oakland U.S. Ice Centre, with hopes that California could hold the key to her Olympic dreams.
Bonaly, currently in Japan for the NHK competition, would like to work with coach Christy Ness, Kristi Yamaguchi’s former coach who is director of figure skating at the new ice center.
The two got to know each other in the past month and could work together starting in January, when Bonaly plans to return to Oakland.
Bonaly, an athletic skater known more for her pure power than her artistic ability, believes Ness could give her the edge she needs in world competition. Bonaly, 21, has failed to medal in the Olympics twice, and has three silver medals - but no golds - in the World Championships.
“I think she’s a good coach,” she said about Ness. “To get better in competition, it’s necessary.”
Ness said Bonaly must dedicate herself to working out the flaws that separate her from Olympic champions.
“She needs someone to allow her to correct the things she needs to work on and make them stay corrected,” Ness said.
Bonaly appeared relaxed and happy on the ice in Oakland, seemingly determined to leave behind the antics that have dogged her career.
The diminutive skater, who stands just over 5 feet, gained attention in the 1992 Olympics when she did a back flip close to Midori Ito during a practice session. Bonaly was warned about the maneuver, which some said was an attempt to psych out her opponents.
In the 1994 World Championships, Bonaly pouted over her marks and refused to wear her silver medal during the final ceremony.
She also has drawn criticism because she is coached by her mother, Suzanne, who has no background in figure skating.
Ness said speculation that judges penalize Bonaly for past actions is simply untrue. Bonaly needs to improve her technique.
Bonaly, explaining she’s happy with her skating, admits she could work on her choreography and refine her routines.
“Like everybody, there are things I need to work on. I think everybody always has room to improve,” she said.