French figure skater Surya Bonaly was on her best behavior Thursday in practice, but then, she had little choice after receiving a rare warning from the referee of the women's competition at the Winter Olympics.
Ben Wright of the United States told Bonaly's mother before the 45-minute practice session at the Olympic Ice Hall that Surya would not be permitted to do her back flip, a crowd-pleasing maneuver that she includes as an exclamation point to her exhibition programs, although it is illegal in competition.
Suzanne Bonaly, a self-proclaimed earth mother, was furious about the reprimand, complaining that she sensed vibrations "of hate, not love" toward her 18-year-old daughter. But Surya got the message and did her workout sans back flip.
Figure skating officials, such as Wright, have suspected for the last two years that Bonaly, a former gymnast, uses the back flip in practices to intimidate other skaters.
"This is nothing new," Wright said. "There's a history here."
It became an issue during Wednesday's practice, when, only a few hours before the women's original program began, Bonaly did an in-your-face back flip and landed practically on top of the favorite, Japan's Midori Ito.
Forced to interrupt the final rehearsal of her program, Ito never regained her composure. She finished fourth in the competition Wednesday, virtually out of contention for a gold medal. Bonaly is third behind two U.S. skaters, Kristi Yamaguchi and Nancy Kerrigan, with tonight's freestyle program accounting for two-thirds of the final score.
Asked if he believes Bonaly attempted to intimidate Ito, Wright said: "Yes, I think so. I don't say she did it intentionally, but, of course, it's an intimidation, intentional or not.
"These (skaters) have enough problems trying to put their mental states in order without this kind of bashing going on. You don't need that kind of aggravation."
The person most aggravated Thursday was Bonaly's mother, who said the skater was "unnerved" by the controversy. She would not allow her daughter to speak for herself because of a sore throat.
Wright said he had heard that the French figure skating association might file a protest against him with the International Skating Union but added that Bonaly's coach, Didier Gailhaguet, had apologized for the incident.
"He has principles and wants to do the right thing," Wright said. "But it's very difficult for him."
That is because his every move is scrutinized by Suzanne Bonaly, a stage mother of the highest order who is known in the French press as "the Dragon Lady."
Although she is not one of the coaches, she stands in the area at the end of the rink that is supposed to be reserved for them during performances and often offers advice to her daughter.
"With the Olympics in France, she is putting a lot of pressure on her kid," Gailhaguet had said earlier this winter. "Sometimes too much pressure. It is stupid."
What kind of pressure, he was asked.
" 'Children are starving in Africa, so you have to do well,' " Gailhaguet said, repeating one of Suzanne's admonishments to her daughter.
Surya, the only black singles skater to rise to this level other than Debi Thomas, was reported for years to have been born on the island of Reunion, a French territory in the IndianOcean.
But her father George, a Paris architect with gray, shoulder-length hair, said Thursday that Surya was born in Nice of parents from Reunion. He and Suzanne adopted her when she was a baby.
They have raised her on Zen, ecology and a macrobiotic diet, although reporters occasionally catch her eating M&Ms.;