Starr Andrews competes during the women's short program at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tenn.
In 2010, Andrews, then 9 years old, was among the first U.S. figure skaters to go viral when a video of her exuberant performance to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” gained tens of millions of views.
This week, two brilliant programs at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, elevated Andrews as the first U.S. Black figure skater to win an ISU Grand Prix medal since the series began in 1995.
But even after the scores were tallied Saturday, showing Andrews had moved up from fifth place after Friday’s short program to second overall, the result took a few minutes to sink in.
“That’s my name, that’s my name!” Andrews exclaimed as she arrived at the women’s press conference and saw her nameplate in the silver medalist’s spot.
“I actually still feel like it’s a dream,” she added.
The result is real. It was Andrews’ programs that were dreamlike, especially her emotional yet beautifully controlled free skate to Belgian singer Lara Fabian’s rendition of “Je Suis Malade.”
Andrews, a 21-year-old Los Angeles native, didn’t do a triple-triple combination, but her mature skating skills and musical panache — along with six triple jumps, including a difficult triple flip, double axel, double toe combination — compensated.
“When I first heard (“Je Suis Malade”), I was just scrolling on YouTube because I had trouble picking my programs this year,” Andrews said. “When I heard (Fabian) sing it live, I thought, ‘That’s incredible to be able to hold the notes like that.’ I thought it would be awesome in an arena and make a beautiful program.”
Andrews’ total score of 191.26 was 10 points above her previous personal best and put her second to Japan’s Rinka Watanabe, a newcomer to the Grand Prix circuit, who earned 197.59. Young You of South Korea won the bronze medal with 190.15 points.
It’s a result many have long predicted for Andrews. She has often had flashes of brilliance, but mistakes here and there — as well as injuries — left her off of podiums. Her previous highest finish at a Grand Prix event was fifth place in France in 2019. She placed ninth at the U.S. championships last season.
“I’ve gone into this year with a different mindset, trying to not be so caught up in my head,” she said. “It helps a lot when I don’t think so much. It’s definitely paid off, even though my season didn’t start off so strong (at Nebelhorn Trophy last month). I was still getting used to my programs.”
“She has been running strong programs at home,” said Derrick Delmore, who trains Andrews in Lakewood, California. “What I am most impressed with is even when things are not perfect (in practice), she’s kept going. She knows she can skate well even if there are errors. That weight has kind of been lifted off of her.”
Improved health also contributed to Andrews’ medal. Last November, at a Grand Prix event in France, she left the ice in the middle of her free skate, gasping for air. After a few scary minutes, she withdrew from the competition.
“It was an electrical issue with my heart — I had an extra nerve and they burned it away (in surgery),” she said. “Once I had surgery to fix the problem, that helped a lot with the anxiety it gave me. I was always thinking, ‘Is it going to start now?’ It was very unpredictable. Now, it’s one thing less on my mind.”
Both skater and coach see Andrews’ medal as a significant step in diversifying the sport in the U.S.
“I think it’s a huge deal, to be a woman of color in figure skating,” Andrews said. “I’m so proud I could represent. (It makes) bringing home a medal even more special.”
“It’s really, really important, especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now,” Delmore said. “She stepped up to the challenge. The fact she made so much of a statement this week does wonders for the community and it will continue to solidify her as a role model.”
Andrews’ second Grand Prix event of the season will be the fifth stop on the circuit: the NHK Trophy, held Nov. 18-20 in Sapporo, Japan.
“I’m just going to continue training the way I have been,” she said. “My practices here were good and I think that helped a lot. I’m just going to trust myself.”
Two New Jersey-based skaters, Ava Marie Ziegler and Lindsay Thorngren, placed fourth and ninth, respectively.