Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tai Babilonia

Tai Babilonia pictureIt's Black History Month 2014 edition but as y'all know I consider every month on TransGriot as Black History month.  

With the Sochi Olympic Games about to start in a few days, I thought this would be a great time to kick off my series of TransGriot Black History Month posts by talking about figure skater Tai Babilonia. 

And yeah, full disclosure, had a little bit of a crush on Tai back in the day.  Moving on to the post. 

Most people are aware of the fact that Dr. Debi Thomas became the first African American to win a medal of any sort in the Winter Olympics with her figure skating bronze medal at Calgary in 1988.  

But that piece of Black history was almost made by biracial figure skater Tai Babilonia, who is of Filipina, Native American (dad) and African American descent (on her mom's side) back in 1980.

Snoopy and Tai Skate at Pershing SquareShe was born in Los Angeles on September 22, 1959 and was inspired to begin ice skating after seeing world and Olympic champion figure skater Peggy Fleming on television when she was six. 

Tai along with her partner Randy Gardner had been skating together since they first met when she was 8 and Randy was 10.  They.were the five time US champions, and when they won the 1979 World Championship in pairs figure skating, they broke a 14 year streak of Soviet titles and became only the second ever American figure skating pair (and unfortunately the last so far) since the competition started in 1908 to win it.  

After finishing fifth in the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck four years earlier, they were the wildly popular home soil gold medal favorites going into the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

1980 Olympics SkatingBut unfortunately during practice ten days before the Lake Placid Games started Gardner fell and suffered a painful groin injury that prevented Randy from lifting Tai and jumping consistently during some of their program elements.

The groin injury to Gardner healed over those ten days, but he re-injured it and made it worse just 48 hours before they were scheduled to compete.  

Randy tried to press on, but it became clear in the warmup before the competition started on February 15 that he was in pain and it forced the couple to withdraw from the Olympic pairs figure skating competition.  

Tai was devastated, but despite the disappointing Olympic setback, the pair continued to skate professionally until their retirement in 2008 despite their ups and downs and drama in their off the ice lives. 

And yes, they are still close. They have been there for each other when the other has needed them.      Randy came out in 2006, has a partner and is penning a memoir. Tai is a businesswoman, mother to a teenage son from a previous marriage, and currently married to comedian David Brenner. 

Tai is still a beloved personality by many of the people of my generation and one of our great figure skating champions.  .   

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