Unless you're one of the rare souls who watches the once-yearly Stars on Ice broadcasts, you probably have never seen a figure skater perform a backflip. There's a good reason for that: the move has been banned from competition since 1976, when American skater Terry Kubicka performed it at the Innsbruck Olympics. But the internet has been going wild over the past week over a different backflipping skater: French skater Surya Bonaly.
A clip of Bonaly at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, went viral last week, alongside the claim that the move being banned was somehow linked to her performance. This, of course, was not true. But that doesn't make her any less badass or groundbreaking! The backflip was, at this point, a staple of show programs — skaters like Scott Hamilton routinely used it for skating shows — but it was always landed on two feet. Bonaly had the incredible athleticism, strength, and sheer guts to land a backflip on one foot, in the middle of a program that had already gone south and coming off of a nasty injury.
Bonaly's skating style was decidedly more athletic and less dainty than the "ice princess" mold that dominated women's skating of the 1990s. As a result, her artistic scores were not always on the same level as her competitors. Despite this, she was a three-time world silver medalist, but an injury to her Achilles tendon and its subsequent setbacks put her out of podium contention by the time Nagano rolled around, and one can imagine Bonaly's frustration was growing.
After a disappointing short program, Bonaly's free skate didn't go as planned either. Toward the end, instead of her planned lutz jump, she did the one-footed backflip. It was a moment of "sure, they all can do that. But can anyone else do this?" She was penalized for it, of course, and she retired from competitive skating afterward (but continued to do her iconic backflip in shows for the next decade). But ask any Olympian, and they'll tell you: even more than medals, the Olympics are about creating a moment that cements you in history. In this defiant, blaze-of-glory instant, Bonaly created the very definition of an Olympic moment.