Tiffany Chin, American ice skating legend
“Change the game” is a Yahoo Sports series dedicated to women who are often overlooked, underrated, or who simply deserve more flowers for their contribution to the history of women’s sport.
Take a look at the figure skaters who represented the U.S. team at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, and you’ll see a milestone.
The best American in the team event: Mirai Nagasu, the daughter of Japanese immigrants in Los Angeles. The tallest American man: Nathan Chen, the son of Chinese immigrants from Salt Lake City. The ice dancers: Maia and Alex Shibutani, daughter and son of musicians of Japanese origin. Behind them: Vincent Zhou (son of Chinese immigrants), Madison Chock (daughter of a father of Chinese and Hawaiian origin), Karen Chen (daughter of Taiwanese immigrants).
In total, half of the entire American figure skating delegation was of Asian descent, a record according to the federation.
This performance did not happen by chance.
Over the years, American figure skating has often found its greats in the Asian American community. You probably know Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan. You may not know the woman who came before her, the one who directly inspired Yamaguchi while making her own story and sowing the seeds of history for years to come.
Chin’s talent did not shield her from racial remarks
When Tiffany Chin made her U.S. figure skating championship debut in 1982, she was a 14-year-old Chinese-American in an otherwise all-white field.
Here’s how Chin remembers growing up in an environment where white champions were the norm for HuffPost’s Jeff Yang:
âI remember when I was growing up,â she said, âa little girl said to me, ‘You’re really good, but you know you’ll never be a champion. Figure skating champions have blonde hair and blue eyes, and neither do you.
For the figure skating world, Chin’s ancestry was new. Her trainer reminded the New York Times of how an advertiser tried to stick a “China Doll” nickname. A Chicago Tribune article notes how her mother – who was heavily involved in training her daughter – was known to many as “the Lady Dragon,” before postulating that a Lady Tiger was a more apt metaphor. The Los Angeles Times called the California native an “exotic beauty.”
It was figure skating in 1982.
Chin was clearly a prodigy, winning the 1981 World Junior Championships and placing fifth on her first trip to the Senior Nationals in 1982. The skating world was thrilled to see her arrive. She was even more excited when she won bronze in 1983 and silver in 1984. As a teenager, she could be seen hitting a triple axel in training, half a decade before Japan’s Midori Ito failed. becomes the first woman to successfully jump in competition. Chin’s ability can be felt even now, as Nagasu compared his own historical triple axis to that of Chin, calling the latter “absolutely magnificent.”
When the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics were held, Chin was perched as the future of American skating. She broke expectations by finishing fourth at the age of 16. Then, 1988 was marked in pencil as the year she would become a household name.
This development continued the following year, when Chin became the first Asian American to win the senior title at the U.S. Championships. She didn’t just win, however; she swept through the competition, placing first in all three categories.
A bronze medal at the World Championships in 1985 and 1986 would follow. Beside her is Debi Thomas, national and world champion and the first African-American to win a medal at the Olympic Winter Games.
The world of figure skating was finally diversifying at the top.
Kristi Yamaguchi: “She paved the way for me”
Among the many who watched Chin’s rise was Yamaguchi, who was 12 when Chin made his Olympic debut. Eight years later, Yamaguchi became the first Asian American figure skater to win Olympic gold, and the first American since 1976.
As Yamaguchi recalls, watching Chin’s star in the figure skating world showed her that it was also possible for her:
âI have had many role models as a skater. One of them was the American champion Tiffany Chin. I identified with his Asian American heritage. This connection made an impression that I could be like her.
âShe paved the way for me to follow,â explains the two-time world champion and inductee into the American Figure Skating Hall of Fame. “I hope that we Asian Americans can continue this in all areas.”
It’s not hard to find similar language about Yamaguchi among modern figure skaters.
The end has come too soon
As exciting as Chin’s good times were, the bad times hit her hard.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a muscle imbalance in his hips, knees and ankles was blamed for his curious physical decline, forcing his mother to prevent him from training for three months. Chin couldn’t even cross his legs at the time. Chin also told The Times that she had faced significant depression during her career:
âIt wasn’t just when I was skating badly,â she said. âSometimes it was also when I skated well. It’s not always such a happy sport. You always try to make everything so pretty and graceful, easy and happy, and often times you don’t. “
In 1987, a physically limited Chin finished fourth at the US Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championships. Facing a very long chance to compete in the 1988 Olympics, Chin announced his retirement from competitive figure skating at the age of 20.
In 1988, the year Chin’s star was supposed to tour the world, she reached the end of the line. Chin quickly signed a seven-figure contract with Holiday on Ice and enrolled in UCLA.
She left behind a world of figure skating that still had few people who loved her. An Asian American sense of otherness persisted, exemplified by the infamous MSNBC headline âAmerican beats Kwanâ. But Chin, who now works as a figure skating coach, was still the first in a line of Asian Americans who would eventually dominate the American field, now one of the less white contingents of the American team in the United States. Winter Olympics.
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