Figure skating has a dark side: The Jessica Shuran Yu bombshell
Watching figure skaters perform can be magical – their elegance & technique completely dazzling. Figure skaters have to train so hard to be perfect – their diligence is impeccable. However, behind all that icy glitter & glam there are a lot of not-so pretty elements that go into the sport.
If you’ve heard of the infamous Tonya & Nancy knee-clubbing case, you know that figure skating can get dark. While many joke about this shocking & vengeful incident, scary atmospheres for skaters are real. And for many, that pressure-filled nightmare is still a reality.
Chinese figure skater Jessica Shuran Yu has come forward about her experience with physical & emotional abuse from figure skating coaches. Here’s a look into Jessica Shurah Yu’s eye-opening story, shedding light on the horrors some figure skaters face.
Competing in the Singapore championships in 2017, Jessica Shuran Yu had to undergo some extreme training to become the best of the best. Training in China since she was a young girl, Yu has been brought up under the tutelage of cut-throat Chinese trainers. Yu shared that not only were these trainers rough – they were incredibly abusive.
According to Yu, these trainers would constantly barrage Yu and other young women with hurtful insults, calling them “stupid”, “fat”, “useless”, “lazy”, & “retarded.” Moreover, Yu told the Guardian that in her country a “culture of physical disciple” was common.
Trainers, Yu revealed, would frequently hit her with a plastic skate guard after she made mistakes. Physical abuse also included being violently kicked with a skate toe-pick which would leave her shins bloodied, marking her with a permanent scar. Yu elaborated:
“The abuse started from the age of 11 when I started being told to reach out a hand whenever I made mistakes. On especially bad days, I would get hit more than 10 times in a row until my skin was raw.”
Not only this, Yu explained that training sessions had the potential to do serious damage to their bodies, coaches making them overstretch or train despite serious injuries. Yu’s accounts carry on throughout her many years she spent in the rink, detailing how harrowing the experience was as she was growing up. Yu continues:
“When I was 14 and going through puberty, I started to struggle with my jumps because I was gaining weight. I was called over and kicked on the bone of my shin with a toe-pick of a blade and made to try again. I wasn’t allowed to limp or cry.”
Yu explained that at the time when such incredible abuse was taking place, it was hard to open up to people about what she was facing. Referring to the abuse she described above, Yu said:
“Most of the time such abuse happened in front of other skaters in the rink. I didn’t tell any of my friends, adults at school or my federation, because I was incredibly humiliated. I was made to feel so small. It was dehumanising.”
After many years of suffering from this abuse, Yu decided to come forward and speak out about what many young figure skaters in China have to face. Her inspiration, she shares, came from watching Netflix’s documentary series Athlete A which is about sexual abuse in Amerian gymnastics.
Yu also mentioned that she read about widespread abuse in British Gymnastics as well. Human Rights Watch recently reported that in Japan hundreds of child athletes reported they had faced abuse as well. Yu reflects on how sports like skating & gymnastics makes girls especially vulnerable:
“There is a toxicity that plagues aesthetic sports like gymnastics and figure skating, which both have environments in which adults can easily exploit young girls with big dreams. I genuinely believe there’s a correlation between the two sports. In both cases we are judged on our appearances. The costume, the makeup, the body image.”
Not over yet
After bearing her hardships & beliefs, Yu urged the International Olympic Committee to protect young women & girls who could likely be abused in sports like skating & gymnastics. With Beijing hosting the next Winter Olympics, Yu pointed out that it would be the perfect opportunity for the IOC to act.
Yu also called for the IOC to set up a hotline run by child protection experts that can help enforce the rights of young athletes. The IOC responded to Yu’s statements, telling the Guardian that it “stands together” with its athletes, but it did not provide much further elaboration or present any plans to prevent future abuse.
Through all of this abuse, Yu’s passion for skating was challenged but ultimately prevailed. She shared this resonating quote:
“There was a point in my life when the abuse made me hate the sport. I dreaded going to practice, wished for car accidents and sobbed through entire training sessions. But I know now that what I hated wasn’t skating, it was the cruelty. Young athletes should be able to love their sport without going through what I and so many others have.”