About Surya Bonaly

French and European Figure Skating Champion

Surya Bonaly skating
Surya Bonaly. (Amy Sussman/Stringer/Getty Images North America Collection/Getty Images)

French and European figure skating champion, Surya Bonaly, is remembered for her exotic and original ice skating costumes and for being the first female figure skater to attempt a quadruple jump. She was known for being very athletic and aggressive.

Bonaly won the French national figure skating title nine times and the European figure skating title five times. She won a silver medal at the World Figure Skating Championships three times ​and placed 4th at the 1994 Winter Olympics and 5th at the 1992 Winter Olympics.

Surya Bonaly was born on December 15, 1973, in Nice, France. She was adopted when she was eight months old. When she was eighteen months old, she began ice skating. Her mother, Suzanne, was her first coach. She began training under Didier Gailhaguet, the President of the French Ice Sports Federation when she was about ten years old. Gailhaguet was her principle coach throughout her competitive figure skating career. Bonaly also competed in gymnastics and diving. She won the World Junior Tumbling Championships in 1986.

Figure Skating Career

At the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships, Surya Bonaly placed second. At the awards ceremony, she first refused to stand on the podium but was finally coaxed there. Once on the podium, she removed her silver medal from her neck.

Bonaly is known for being one of the only skaters who can land a back flip on one foot on the ice. She did her trademark backflip at the 1998 Olympics. The back flip was not allowed. It is said that she did the illegal backflip skating move to leave her mark on the figure skating world since she had no chance of placing at the 1998 Olympics. After the 1998 Olympics, she competed professionally and won many professional titles. She toured with Champions on Ice for several years.

Publicity Stunt About Surya Bonaly

Bonaly's coach, Didier Gailhaguet, fabricated a story about Surya Bonaly's origins. To call attention to her, it was said that she had been born an exotic and remote island called Reunion Island before she was adopted. CBS included the story in the coverage of the 1989 World Figure Skating Championships. Eventually, it came out that the story was untrue.


In 2004, Bonaly became a U.S. citizen and moved to the United States. She lived in Las Vegas, Nevada where she taught skating and then moved to Minnesota.