BLACK HISTORY: Olympics First Black Pairs Skating Team

VANCOUVER – Vanessa James says she had two big reasons to feel proud on the ice Monday: she was part of the first black figure skating pair in Olympic history, and she did it in the country of her birth.

Toronto-born James and partner Yannick Bonheur, skating for France, delighted the crowd at the Pacific Coliseum with an elegant and technically rich routine in their free skate. They are among the few black skaters who have climbed the ranks of international figure skating and the first to reach these heights as part of a pair.

“We’ve actually had a few people who had come from the U.S. to watch the Olympics and they had never seen us before, and they have children who are black figure skaters and now they want to be the best,” James said after their routine Monday. “They see that it’s possible so I hope we do see more black skaters in figure skating, and then we’ll see more skaters.”
Getting to Vancouver has been a long journey for the duo who teamed up just over two years ago after Bonheur put an advert on the internet after splitting with previous partner Marylin Pla. Canadian-born James' aunt saw it and convinced her niece, who has lived in England since she was a child, to reply.

James, 22, arrived in France for a trial run and never left with the duo teaming up in December 2007. "It's destiny and I'm very happy about it," said 27-year-old Bonheur. "There's the grace and beauty of Vanessa and then my athleticism. And the fact that we're both black brings a pleasing visual harmony."

James previously competed internationally for Britain as a single's skater. She was the 2006 British national champion and 2007 silver medalist. The pair moved to Indianapolis in the United States in August 2009 to train with Russian coach Sergei Zaitsev. And last December they booked their ticket to Vancouver by winning the French nationals, a victory which enabled James to receive French citizenship.

Bonheur said they were determined that their Olympic experience will lay the groundwork for future successes, after they finished seventh at Europeans. "This is just the beginning. We want to make a name for ourselves so that they'll remember us for next season," he said. Bonheur said he was proud.

The two were not expected to reach the podium, but skated cleanly in their second routine of the Games. “We want to prove that blacks in figure skating can succeed. We hope that in the future we can win some medals, and bring a black touch to figure skating.”

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