Last fall, I did a bit of academic research on my Facebook page. Because I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” beginning next week, I asked my Facebook friends “If you could learn about any French person, who would it be?” Some of the answers were downright hilarious (Pepe Le Peu, cartoon skunk), but others painted a lively portrait of France’s history with people from all walks of life. One of the trickier categories to pin down in this discussion: French athletic figures. Some argued for basketball player (and Eva Longoria spouse) Tony Parker, but for me, he feels like he’s become very American, very Hollywood. Soccer player Zinedine Zidane surged forward in my mind as the best, most tragic (for a time), and most modern example for the category.
But how could I forget figure skater Surya Bonaly, with her backflips and bad-ass attitude? This week, Jezebel ran a piece called “Surya Bonaly is the biggest badass in Winter Olympics History,” a headline so true that I have no choice but to add a part about her to my class at the eleventh hour. Bonaly is a three time World silver medalist, a five-time European champion and a nine-time French national champion. Although she gained American citizenship in 2004, she is almost considered to be one of the greatest figure skaters to have never won a medal in the Olympics and because she was the most exciting athlete in France in the 1990s, I feel she can’t be ignored.
Is there any other French athlete I should consider? If so, who is it and why should I include them? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.