French figure skater docked points for perfect ‘backflip’, here’s why

French figure skater Adang Xiao Yingfa, 22, performed a “backflip” at the 2024 International Ice Skating Union (ISU) Figure Skating European Championships. It was a clean landing, but he was heavily penalized. The backflip is a banned skill, meaning that even a successful execution will result in a deduction.

Xiao Yingfa earned a technical score of 97.03 points, an artistic score of 88.01 points, and three demerit points for a total of 182.04 points in the men’s single free skate at the event in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Feb. 13 (ET).

Xiao Yingfa’s performance was more talked about for his backflip attempt than his result. Xiao Yingfa performed a backflip in which he spun backwards in the air and landed on both feet. He nailed the trick cleanly and quickly followed it up with another move. The crowd erupted in cheers.

Xiao Yingfa was penalized two points for the backflip. The ISU long ago banned the trick out of concern for athlete injury, and even if it’s successful, it’s penalized.

However, backflips are more than just a “banned skill” in figure skating. It has become a “symbol of resistance” thanks to black figure skater Shirya Bonali.

In the figure world of the 1990s, Bonali was often criticized for her lack of grace because she wasn’t the slender white athlete that judges expected. She performed more spins and higher techniques than others, but this didn’t translate into points.

Bonali broke the taboo and performed a backflip at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. It would be his last Olympic performance due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Bonali confronted the referee, saying, “It’s not the backflip that should be banned, it’s the racism.

Xiao Yingfa didn’t take her backflip too seriously, telling ISU after the competition, “I knew I would be penalized for doing a backflip, but I wanted to showcase the skill for the betterment of the figure world,” adding, “It’s actually not as dangerous as it sounds. “I also wanted to perform for the crowd,” she said, “this is the French style.”

Xiao Yingfa, meanwhile, won the event despite a backflip deduction. It was a comfortable victory, with a whopping 19.18 points over the runner-up. Xiao Yingfa has won the European Championships for the second year in a row after taking the title last year.

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