Starr Andrews wants to make history. As one of only a handful of African American ladies to ever reach the upper echelons of figure skating, Andrews hopes to be the first to capture a gold medal at an Olympic Winter Games.
The 17-year-old began her quest for Olympic glory this season — her first as a fulltime senior competitor. Andrews’ dream began in southern California at age 3. At the time, her mother, Toshawa Andrews, an adult skater, took her young daughter with her to the rink where she was taking lessons.
Though Andrews wanted to join her mother on the ice, her feet were too small for the boots available at the rink. “My mother told me I had to wait until I was older, so I would sit on the sideline and watch, waiting for my feet to grow,” Andrews recalled. When her feet were finally big enough to fit into a pair of boots, it was not long before she fell in love with the sport.
Sharing the passion with her mother has created a special bond between them Andrews said. “We both know how hard the sport is, and we also know how fun it is. She taught me to always have fun when I am skating and to remember why I am doing it. I think that sharing the sport made us closer.”
Andrews first stepped into the spotlight as a nine-year-old when a video of her skating to “Whip My Hair” went viral. Dressed in a bedazzling fluorescent pink shirt and purple shorts, Andrews executed hip-hop moves with a playful maturity that defied her age. The video, which now has more than 54 million views, is a source of pride for the 2017 U.S junior ladies silver medalist. “Looking back, I still can laugh at the video because it’s really entertaining. I was having the time of my life. It was super fun,” she said.
Andrews, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California, trains at rinks in Torrance and Lakewood with Derrick Delmore and Peter Kongkasem. Delmore, the 1998 World junior champion, is the first and only African American man to win that title. Together with Andrews, they are the only African American athlete-coach duo in the United States. “We don’t really talk about that, but I think it’s really cool,” Andrews said of working with Delmore. “More importantly, I want to show other African American girls that they can be a part of figure skating, and that hard work can pay off.”
Last season, she made her senior debut at the U.S. Championships, finishing in sixth place. In the free skate, Andrews boldly chose to perform to her own vocal rendition of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”
“My mom and my coach had the idea. I thought it would be amazing,” said Andrews. “The first time I heard it, it was weird because I was used to the Whitney version. I think it worked out because I related to the music more when it was my own version. It was me telling the story, my interpretation of the song.”
Andrews competed in two Challenger Series events this season, earning a fifth-place finish at the Asian Open Trophy in Bangkok, Thailand, in early August. She followed that up with a seventh-place finish at Autumn Classic in Canada in September. “My performances at Autumn Classic were definitely an improvement from the Asian Open,” she said. “But I see places where I can continue to improve as the season progresses. I need to continue to work on bigger crossovers because I am a small person. My coach will yell when I am skating to remind me, but I have to consciously remember to skate bigger because it’s not ingrained in me yet. I also need to continue to work on my components, finish my lines and gain consistency with my jumps.”
Andrews also understands that taking a big step forward this season means she has to be bold. She has added a triple Axel to her free skate arsenal and went for it at both international competitions. Though she was unable to land the jump cleanly in those two attempts, Andrews still plans to keep it in the program. “In practice, you can redo it after your program if you make a mistake, but in competition, you can’t. You have to rotate it and land it. There’s just more pressure to do it because you only get one chance,” she said.
Andrews, who made her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America in October, learned she had been given the assignment in an interesting way. “I was practicing on the ice with one of my coaches, and my mom found out first. She yelled down to the coach and tossed her phone to him. He said, ‘Congratulations, you got your first Grand Prix.’ I said, ‘You’re lying.’ When I realized he wasn’t, I was really excited. I am happy my first Grand Prix will be in the U.S. To be able to represent my country in my country is a dream come true.” In mid-October, she received a second assignment to Skate Canada.
Her new short program this season is set to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s version of the George Gershwin classic, “Summertime.”
“Derrick chose the short program music. It was a great option and something different for me. It’s really soft and fluid,” she said.
The long program is a compilation of various pieces of music by several artists, which she and her team have called “African Tribal Xotica.”
“I really wanted a free skate with no lyrics this year and something that was similar to the ‘Black Panther’ movie soundtrack,” Andrews said. “Derrick already had this music selected and cut, and when I heard it, I loved it. It’s challenging because it is a character-driven piece. If I go in and out of character, it doesn’t really help the story. It takes a lot of effort to make sure I am doing all the elements and also paying attention to the character, as well.”
Aside from her desire to perform at her best this season, Andrews also has lofty goals in terms of placements. “I have always had the mindset that if I skate my best, then I have a chance to get on the podium. That’s never really changed. I believe that if I work hard in practice, stay healthy and continue to grow as an athlete, then I can get good scores.”
Away from the ice, Andrews, a high school junior, has three pets — an Australian Labradoodle named Mochi, a bearded dragon named Katara, and a stray cat named Koda. “She came up to me when we lived in Los Angeles. I fed her and she never went away, so we ended up keeping her,” Andrews said.
The teenager is aiming to make a run for the podium at the 2019 U.S. Championships next January, and knows she will need to be consistent, skate clean programs and nail the triple Axel to achieve that objective. “Of course, I want to skate more consistently cleaner programs as the season progresses. I want to place higher than I did last year and, hopefully, end up on the podium. In the long term I want to be in the history books as the first African American to win the Olympics, and to inspire more African Americans to come to the sport.”