In 2010, the figure skating coach Frank Carroll, who has coached Asian American Olympians such as Michelle Kwan and Mirai Nagasu, said that skaters of Asian descent had found success on the ice because their bodies are “often small and willowy.”
“They have bodies that are quick and light; they’re able to do things very fast,” Carroll told The New York Times. “It’s like Chinese divers. If you look at those bodies, there’s nothing there. They’re just like nymphs.”
Carroll’s remarks were part of decades of Olympics commentary that zeroes in on Asian bodies, often focusing on athletes’ size, beauty and fragility. Experts say this type of generalization is racist and dehumanizing and part of a longer history of exotifying and sexualizing Asian women in the U.S.
Experts say that when the media focuses on Asian American Olympians’ bodies, it erases the existence and excellence of their athleticism and makes it seem like their talent is simply innate and not the result of years of training and dedication. Critics also point out that Asians, like all ethnicities, have varied body types and there is no uniform way to describe them.