The World Figure Skating Championships will be taking place next week in Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to the chase for the medal podium, berths in next year’s Olympic Winter Games are at stake. Placements will determine how many skaters a country can send in each discipline: ladies, men, pairs and ice dance.
Unfortunately, some skaters will be heading to the World Championships with minimal competitive experience over the past year. The 2020 World Championships were canceled due to COVID-19 and international competitions have SINCE been canceled or scaled back.
When the skaters convene in Stockholm, there will likely be only one Black skater, Maé-Bérénice Méité of France. Her longtime teammate, three-time Olympian Vanessa James, is not currently competing, but James is actively involved in promoting greater diversity to the sport as global brand ambassador for the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance (fsdia.org).
“This is a really good time for us to connect and share our experiences,” said James. “The whole goal is to motivate kids of color to want to skate, know that they’re capable and also provide the resources. We’re also trying to promote change so that skating can retain these skaters.”
James acknowledged that microaggressions exist and can erode a young skater’s confidence. They have community meetings where skaters of various ages can share their experiences and serve as a support system. James is aware that representation can be a motivator.
“I came up with the Big Skater/Little Skater program,” said James. “Many high-level skaters are sponsored by boot and blade companies. It’s at the lower level where kids aren’t accomplished enough…to be sponsored. The goal is that for every pair of skates that a big skater gets for the season, a brand donates a pair of skates to a BIPOC skater who is part of our Big Skater/Little Skater program.
“Along with that, they will get a mentor,” she added. “Maé, myself and [FSDIA founder] Elladj Baldé are the first three mentors and we have three skaters that we will be mentoring and motivating. Giving them some technical help. It’s a connection so they can realize that they count, and we’re here to encourage them to be their best.”
As for predictions for the World Championships, James projects a Russian sweep in the ladies event. She said five-time U.S. Men’s Champion Nathan Chen is likely to win his third World title. Several countries, including the U.S., Canada and Russia, will battle for the podium in ice dance. For the pairs, it’s mostly a battle between teams from Russia and China, but U.S. Champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, could be in the mix.