Whatever Happened To Olympic Figure Skater Surya Bonaly?

It's no small feat to have a move in an international sport named after you. To give your name to a move that is technically illegal but undoubtedly impressive is even more remarkable. Yet that's exactly what Surya Bonaly did in the 1998 Winter Olympics when she pulled off a backflip while landing on one blade, a feat as yet unmatched in Olympic history.

It was an achievement that came at the end of Bonaly's amateur career, a career marked by controversies and tensions with the judges of international skating competitions. She came onto the skating scene with a false backstory concocted by her first coach, Didier Gailhaguet, who also fed rumors that Bonaly's adopted mother was controlling and abusive. Throughout her time in amateur competition, she dealt not only with such rumors but with a reputation for being a bad loser with a negative attitude toward judges. For her part, Bonaly told The Root years later that she felt her race was a factor in her treatment. She also added that "some people, including Black people, thought I was mean or tough, but I've never been mean. I took my sport 100 percent [seriously] and wanted to give 100 percent of myself, not for a medal but for myself."

If they weren't a driving motive, Bonaly still picked up a few medals in her time, including three World Championship silvers and five European championships. And her time with skating didn't end with her amateur career. Bonaly transitioned into professional skating and later coaching, along with quite a bit more. Here's what she's been up to since that Olympic backflip.

Bonaly moved from skating to coaching

After retiring from amateur competition following the 1998 Winter Olympics, Surya Bonaly transitioned into professional skating. She turned an existing relationship with America's Champions on Ice into a long touring gig, during which, she told Ladepeche, she had considerably more creative freedom than she had in amateur competition. Her ties to the United States were strong enough that she obtained American citizenship and moved to Las Vegas; ironically enough for a skating champion, she tired of the cold winters in her first American home, Boston.

Bonaly's skating career began suffering due to ongoing lower back pain. She put off seeing a doctor for as long as he could, but when it became too much to bear, she went and found that she had noncancerous cysts on her spine. Surgery removed her cysts but left her left leg numb from the knee down, forcing her to retire from performing.

The surgery wasn't the end of her association with skating, though. Bonaly moved into coaching and temporarily moved to Minnesota to be closer to her fellow skater-turned-teacher boyfriend Pete Biver. She maintained a six-day-a-week schedule, driving between multiple skating rings. While she eventually moved back to Las Vegas, Bonaly continues to coach, both in America and abroad.

She's an animal rights advocate

Away from the ice, Surya Bonaly has been a cultural attaché for the Monaco consulate and an ambassador for a French organization fighting racism in sports. She's also been active as an animal rights advocate. Her parents raised her as a vegetarian, anathema to French culture at the time, and she remained a vegetarian as an adult. In her native France, she joined other celebrities, including the French singer Renaud and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, in protesting bullfighting. Bonaly specifically called for a ban on anyone under 16 from attending a bullfight anywhere in France in 2007 (per Ladepeche).

That same year, Bonaly partnered with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to protest another practice, this time in Canada. She posed in photos for a poster campaign aimed at seal hunts, posing on a patch of bloody ice. Before her skating career ended, Bonaly also put on a performance with a PETA sign protesting fur. In 2022 she released a 32-page picture book about her life geared toward kids called "Fearless Heart: An Illustrated Biography of Surya Bonaly."