Former Singapore figure skating champ opens up about abusive coach

Jessica Shuran Yu at the 2016 ISU Junior Grand Prix. Image: ISU Junior Grand Prix/YouTube
Jessica Shuran Yu at the 2016 ISU Junior Grand Prix. Image: ISU Junior Grand Prix/YouTube

Update: Singapore ‘dismayed’ by former figure skater’s story of abuse

Female athletes who have come forward with stories of abuse have encouraged former figure skater Jessica Shuran Yu to open up about her own troubled experience and the seeming normalization of abuse in the world of figure skating. 

Two years retired, the 19-year-old who clinched Singapore’s first winter sports gold at the 2017 SEA Games said that she suffered years of physical abuse at the hands of an unnamed coach, even in the run up to a qualification event for the 2018 Beijing Olympics, which she failed to pass.

“More than two years out of retirement, I am finally starting to heal. Up until recently, I never acknowledged what I went through was abuse. In fact, I never told anyone about it. Only after reading Laurie Hernandez’s story was I able to start processing my past,” she wrote on Instagram, referring to an American gymnast who spoke out on emotional abuse last month on the Changing The Game sports podcast

“There are many reasons it took me so long, but one of the most significant reasons is because throughout everything, I was led to believe that I deserved it,” added Yu, whose father is said to have Singapore citizenship. 

Yu did not name the coach but said he was considered someone “feared.” According to the International Skating Union, her coach was former Chinese figure skater Gao Song.

It all began when she was 11 with her coach striking her with equipment, she wrote online yesterday. After that, she said he would strike her upward of 10 times per day. She went on to recount how, at 14, he kicked her in the shin with the jagged metal front edge of his skating blade and then forced to continue training without limping. 

She also said that her coach kicked her foot ahead of the Olympics qualifying event in late 2017 because he was apparently annoyed by her crying from the stress. Though the injury forced her off the ice for two days before the event, she said she does not blame it for her failure to qualify for the event she had long dreamed of competing at.

A few months later, Yu announced her early retirement after being diagnosed with a neurological disorder

Yu, who was born in China and trained at Beijing’s Century Star skating club, also detailed instances of verbal abuse and eating disorders. 

“My coach had a reputation at our rink for being feared. It was rare for a practice session to go by without him screaming at us so loud that someone in the hallway, separated by a wall, could hear. He called us names every day. Lazy. Stupid. Ret*rded. Useless,” she said. 

She said she was also inspired to come forward with her story after watching the Netflix documentary Athlete A, which is about the strict training regimen and sexual abuse of athletes in the American gymnastics program.  

The show suggested that the abuse of athletes helped America produce world champions. 

Yu noted that mirrored her own experience while training for figure skating in China, where she said she was made to believe that the abuse was just part of “strict coaching” and a necessary means to achieving success. According to her, she was told that she should just perform better in order to avoid getting hit. 

“Also, abuse of athletes is so common in China I believed it to be a ‘cultural’ thing. With recent allegations from American and British athletes, I realized it’s not just a Chinese cultural thing but a toxicity that plagues aesthetic sports gymnastics and figure skating.”

Yu expressed hope that her story could spark a change or help others deal with their experiences.

Other stories to check out:

Publisher sorry if readers ‘misunderstood’ racist book for Singapore’s kids
PAP women say student strangler’s light sentence was ‘disproportionate’

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