"There's no limit" - Starr Andrews skates as a role model with Beijing on her mind

The teenager talks about being one of the few elite black figure skaters on the circuit before competing at this weekend's Skate America in Las Vegas.

By Nick McCarvel

Starr Andrews wishes you could be right there on the ice with her.

The American figure skater, 19, will compete at this weekend's Skate America in Las Vegas but says her favourite time on the ice is when she’s putting her programs together, laying out choreography on practice ice.

"If I could, I would just skate choreography for hours a day… I wouldn’t complain," she told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview. "The beauty of skating… I just love it so much. I want people to watch me and have that same love (for the sport)."

The 2020-21 ISU Grand Prix series begins at Skate America with the fields dominated by home skaters due to COVID travel restrictions put in place by the ISU.

Reigning U.S. Championship medallists Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell headline the field, while Olympians and former U.S. champs Karen Chen and Gracie Gold also feature.

Andrews, who was sixth at both the 2018 and 2020 U.S. Championships, is looking to further her chances to qualify for Beijing 2022 although fellow Californian and two-time U.S. champ Alysa Liu - who is still too young for senior competition - will factor into the Team USA conversation next season.

“You know, you can't succeed if you don't try,” Andrews said of the crowded U.S. ladies field. “So, I think that's really, really important.”

'Black Like Me': Starr takes a stand

As Black Lives Matter moved to the forefront of everyday life in the United States in 2020, figure skating faced its own reckoning with athletes calling for more diversity inclusion and activation at grassroots level.

It prompted Andrews to make her own contribution. She recorded herself singing to Mickey Guyton’s powerful hit “Black Like Me", on her YouTube page, then skated to Guyton’s vocals of the same song.

The program, choreographed by Andrews and her coach Derrick Delmore, received over 66,000 views online (above).

"I just wanted people to see the beauty of the program", she said. “And I wanted them to be like, ‘I want to try that,’ because it's really important that they try."

"The meaning and impact of the program went so much deeper... the lyrics are so powerful and it’s something Starr really connected to," added Delmore. "Because there are so few black skaters in the world, it’s really important for Starr to be a role model and a voice for skaters of colour. And I think it was important for her to show that it’s okay to acknowledge and express herself, not just as another figure skater, but as a black female in figure skating."

The African American skater is still one of only a handful of black athletes at the elite level of the sport in the United States and beyond, and so while she chases her own dream – the Olympic Games – she’d like to encourage others to chase their dreams, no matter what those dreams might be.

Andrews said, "I think it's really important that the sport is more diverse because I feel like it isn't as diverse as it should be.

"You know, you see a couple people here and there, but I feel like it needs to be a normal thing that you see. And it's not."

Role models and representation

Representation matters to Andrews, and Delmore is part of that picture having worked with her since 2013.

Delmore is the 1998 junior world champion and a Stanford graduate. He has helped Andrews forge her own path in a sport lacking top-level black athletes and is also of African American descent.

It’s Delmore who Andrews says pulls the emotions out of her in her choreography and programs. Their team has roughly 15 months to move Andrews into the top two or three in the country to try and make the team fror Beijing.

"We took an obvious hit with being off the ice for a few months," Delmore said. "It is taking time to get back to competitive form, but we know we will get there.

"I think it’s impossible to look at this year as a real season - we need to view it as a long pre-season for next year. This will allow us to have a slower progression leading up to Beijing so that we can hopefully peak at the right time. Starr is continuing to work to increase the difficulty in her programs, and also working on adding new jumps to her repertoire."

As Andrews develops, she would also like to continue to be someone that young black girls can look up to, much like she idolised tennis champion and Olympic gold medallist Serena Williams as a child.

“I definitely looked up to Serena because she is such a fighter,” she shared. “I think I'd pass out if I could meet her. Everything about her is amazing… and I love how she’s dealt with all the pressure.”

Williams and sister Venus inspired the likes of Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka and youngster Coco Gauff in tennis, and Andrews says she would like to do something similar in figure skating.

She said, "I think it's really important to be a role model because it just shows kids that they can do it. There's no limit to what sport you can do. I don’t want them to feel limited. They can do what they want. And, you know, not feel self-conscious about it because they have someone to look up to in that sport."

World champions and Olympic medallists Michelle Kwan and Debi Thomas were Andrews’ skating heroes, two minority women in the sport. Thomas was the first African American woman to win a U.S. title, in 1986.

“I go through a hard time sometimes, so I can't even imagine for (Debi),” she said. “So I just I think she's a very strong woman.”

'I want them to smile'

Andrews has spent time in New York City with the Figure Skating in Harlem non-profit group, which “helps girls of colour… transform their lives and grow in confidence, leadership and academic achievement” through the sport of figure skating.

“I loved being there and talking to those girls," she said. “I want to support them, too, because I know they can do it. It’s heartwarming to have their support.”

While Skate America is being held being closed doors, fans can still watch on TV and on web streams from around the world. Andrews still wants them right there on the ice with her, even if it’s through a screen.

“I just want people to enjoy my show,” she said. “I want them to smile and clap along with the music, because I really love my (programs), especially my footwork.”