Champions Corner

Olympic figure skater Surya Bonaly followed this simple rule to become world champion

Surya Bonaly
Dimitri Iundt/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

For Surya Bonaly defying expectations is something that has defined her career, with the world champion famous for being the only female figure skater in history to do a backflip, a move which had been banned from competitions since the 1970s.

Bonaly said that always going the extra mile is a rule she stuck by since she first began figure skating as a young child in France.

"Even if it was just some push ups, if someone asked me to do 20, I would do 30 and I think that has helped me through life by always giving more," she told CNBC, explaining that it "almost felt natural" to do so because she was so passionate about her sport.

Being a women of color in figure skating also formed part of this "motivation and determination to excel," Bonaly said, in feeling like she had to "do more than OK to be accepted."

Bonaly added that perseverance is crucial even for those with "natural talent," particularly as someone who found she could easily pick up most sports as a child. At age 12 she was a world champion in the gymnastics discipline of tumbling.

But it was the desire to perfect her skills as a figure skater which helped her to deal with pressure throughout her career.

Having a "rock solid" routine, she argued, was the best way to avoid fear of failure.

"You just have to make sure you practice, that it's impeccable and you know you could almost do it with your eyes closed," she continued.

Indeed, in a TEDx Talk last year Bonaly described how she used to practice for between seven and 10 hours a day as a child.

She also said in the talk that it was her mother who encouraged her to practice certain so-called "forbidden" jumps such as her famous backflip. In fact, her mother eventually became her full-time trainer, after Bonaly was told off by her coach for trying such moves.

It was then during her third Olympics in Nagano, Japan in 1998 that she became globally famous for being the only skater in history to do a backflip and land on one skate, a move now known as the Bonaly.

While she never won an Olympic medal, Bonaly is a three-time World Cup silver medalist, five-time champion of Europe and a nine-time champion of France.

Bonaly's story actually featured in the Netflix series "Losers," released earlier this year, which focused on athletes who had turned "agony of defeat into human triumph."

"Sports, especially figure skating, kind of taught me how to get up and go (despite) falling … it's all about keeping a positive attitude and trying and going back until you succeed," said Bonaly.

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