Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar - Sun Salutation is a series of yoga asana that is performed at the time when the sun makes its ascent into the sky. The sun climbs and we move and breathe and open into our day. The sun about its work and we about ours.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Roosevelt (1910)

The passage from Roosevelt's Citizen of the Republic Speech is sometimes called the Man in the Arena. At the Winter Olympics 1998, Surya Bonaly is in pain from an Achilles tendon injury. She’s out of the medal contention and this will be her last Olympic games. Bonaly has long been chastised for her “lack of artisanship on the ice.” A figure skater is not supposed to stop, jumps should come almost out of nowhere. Bonaly was a national tumbling champion before she was a skater. Tumblers make passes, stop, turn and set up for the next pass.

Surya - her name means the sun, has been criticised for many things. She’s never been the definition of an ice princess. She has been called “athletic” “exotic” and unusual. Four years before, in Japan at the world championships, despite artistry, in spite of toning down the colours of her costumes, despite the most technically routine and skating almost perfectly, she was awarded the silver medal. She cried. In 1998, she’s about to retire from amateur skating and turn professional. This in part, is a liberation. Turning pro frees her to perform her signature move. A backflip.

Gold medal skaters will shake their heads at the mention of the move. "Skaters spin, we do not flip," one is on record as saying. The physics of a body moving on a slick hard surface, balanced on a knife-edge. The skill, strength and technique needed almost pale in comparison to the sheer force of will that is deciding to do the move. It has been banned in Olympic competitions since Bonaly was a toddler. And, that is the two-footed landing. A one-footed backflip is something that you should be able to wager safely you would never see in Olympic competition.

In Nagano, Bonaly is skating to Vivaldi - Summer (II and III) Adagio and Presto. Early in the programme, she falls on a triple. Her jumps are hesitant, her speed’s not there. And then out of nowhere, almost - a commentator, talking about seeing her on the ice said, “if you knew her, you knew, uh-oh.” He’s seen a familiar set-up.

Ready, she leaps up, back, over and lands on one moving knife-edge. “A back-flip,” “The judges are going to hammer her” a commentator shouts. The crowd gasps, roars, rises to its feet and claps along until the end of her skate. Surya’s smile lights up the arena.

The programme

Photo: Getty Images

“Does the sun ask itself, "Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?" No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?" No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies?" No, it burns, it shines.” Andrea Dworkin

Only one person has landed a one-footed backflip in Olympic competition. Her name is Surya. The sun about its work and we about ours. And, that thing that is yours, that you are the one person in the world who can...Do it!

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