“Penalized for Being Too Good?”: 1976 Olympics Illegal Move by Figure Skating Star Goes Viral

Published 12/30/2023, 12:28 PM EST

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Surya Bonaly’s contentious backflip performed at the Olympics has been a point of discussion for decades. Figure skating involves complex moves and maneuvers, however, one bizarre move banned for Olympic figure skaters is backflips. The three-time Olympian and three-time world championship silver medalist Bonaly pulled off the backflip 25 years ago and, this makes it all the more iconic.

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Banned in 1976, performing backflips can disqualify the skater. However, Bonaly’s performance at the 1998 Nagano Olympics undercut various dynamics, which makes it inherently difficult to determine the stance. With the resurgence of the clip highlighting Bonaly’s performance, fans have interesting views to share, not to mention it created a lot of divisive and polarizing discourses.

Fans react to Surya Bonaly’s backflip

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The Twitter handle of nonaesthetic things, @PicturesFolder, posted Bonaly’s iconic yet illegal backflip from the 1998 Olympics. It captioned the post, “This move is so hard to pull off that it was made illegal in 1976 and this Olympic athlete was penalized for it.” She took her chance and executed it to perfection and radiated pure elan, nevertheless.

As the clip did rounds on the Internet, fans shared their perspectives on whether the penalty was justified or not. One of them wrote, “You are only penalized if you land on two legs for the backflip. She landed on one making it legal. It was a huge dispute.  People didn’t like her because she didn’t skate like the traditional like everybody else. She likes athleticism more than anything.”

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Yet another comment brings the lens of race into the narrative. The fan wrote, They wouldn’t have ever given her the gold metal. She was a black muscular woman that skated with less elegance and flexibility and focused on raw power and execution. They had no intentions of rewarding her skills because she didn’t fit the mold for a female skater.”

Bonaly’s debatable backflip is still a bone of contention

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During the 1998 Olympics, Bonaly suffered a setback because of her Achilles tendon injury. Unable to do the complex triple Lutz, she resorted to performing a backflip, landing on a single foot. According to Deadspin, the Olympic commentator, Scott Hamilton, immediately declared it to be an illegal move by Bonaly.

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Scott Hamilton added, “She’s doing it to get the crowd. She’s going to get nailed.” Hamilton had been performing backflips on ice shows, but even he couldn’t do it like Bonaly. Thus, while the move was spectacular and Bonaly was a badass for doing it, it may not have been wrongly penalized, as Deadspin adds.

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Bonaly retired from the Olympics soon after leaving the trademark. But her signature move is still a mesmerizing masterpiece.

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Written by:

Shivangi Agrawal

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One take at a time

Hello there! I am Shivangi Agrawal, an Olympic sports writer at EssentiallySports. With a degree in media and mass communication, I bring a stalwart experience to the table. Before starting my journey with EssentiallySports, I worked as a content creator for leading media houses.
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Edited by:

Himanshu Sridhar

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