On January 27, Starr Andrews, a 21-year-old figure skater from California, earned the pewter medal (fourth place) at the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. It was the first time since Debi Thomas in 1988 that a Black female skater earned a spot on the senior women’s podium.
It is important that such accomplishments be acknowledged, so people who are craving connection in a sport in which there are few Black athletes see representation.
Andrews’s podium placement, which she achieved after a stellar short program and a somewhat disappointing free skate, was thrilling for individuals working to achieve greater diversity in the sport of figure skating.
To clarify a point that other media overlooked, this was the first time for a female skater. The last senior medalist was pairs skater Aaron Parchem, who earned a silver medal and an Olympic berth (with partner Marcy Hinzmann) in 2006. In total, Parchem won four medals at the senior level with two partners between 2001–06.
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Seeing two Black women compete in the senior level—Alexa Gasparotto finished 17th—was exciting for Megan Williams-Stewart, who competed in the senior women’s event at the U.S. Championships from 2005–08 and is now a coach. “It brings an awareness to the public that skating is for everybody,” said Williams-Stewart. “Hopefully, diversity continues to grow at these higher-level competitions.”
Growing up in the sport, Williams-Stewart, who coaches in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and is a board member of Diversify Ice, knew she stood out and felt she had something to prove. She said the same is true for a young skater she currently teaches. “She’s aware, but it’s not a topic that’s discussed at length,” said Williams-Stewart. “When you’re in it, you know that you’re the only one.”
Williams-Stewart said prejudice and negative comments to skaters are unacceptable. She endured such things when she was competing, but said now, any such statements should not be tolerated and that it’s time to create a more expansive view of what a skater looks like.
“The most important takeaway from Starr being on the podium and her being highlighted in the media—it shows the rest of the world, African American girls watching TV at home, that maybe they can be an ice skater,” said Williams-Stewart. “It changes it for a young generation. They have another person of color to look up to and think, ‘Skating could be for me. She did it.’”