There is always loopy calliope music playing in the background of any story about the Bonalys. Before Surya arrived, the Bonalys liked to hop in their small car and spend their monthlong holiday driving to far-flung places like Finland, Norway—even India. "Four times to India," Suzanne says. "We had no money to fly, so we would drive all day, all night. Through Pakistan, Afghanistan. Sleep in the car. Fourteen days of this to get to India. Oh, it was so nice."
Before Surya's career took off, the Bonalys drove to European competitions in a camper so they could save money on hotels, fix their meals and bring their menagerie. Though now down to three dogs, the Bonalys once had five, all Great Danes. One of Surya's early exhibition programs featured poodles and doves. "That was during the gulf war," Surya explains. "Doves to symbolize peace."
Peret, the French TV correspondent, remembers filming an interview in a Leningrad hotel room once and being distraded by "this strange noise—'Bbblb-bblb-blb-bla, bbblb-bblb-blb-bla....' Finally I realized Surya had smuggled a damn bird all the way to Russia.' "
As animal stories go, nothing tops the Bonalys' tale of an adventure near Carroll's training center in Lake Arrowhead. Calif. Suzanne and Surya had risen early to take a drive and soak in the mountain scenery. When they came upon a bear lying motionless in the road, Suzanne leaped out and began administering CPR
Surya, howling with laughter now, demonstrates how her mother pounded on the bear's chest with two crossed hands. "I was still in the car, thinking. Oh my god, oh my god," Surya says, "Then I finally said, 'Mama.... Oh, Mama? What if this bear wakes up?' "
At times like that, when Surya and Suzanne are laughing and wiping tens from their eyes, they seem utterly devoted to each other. The two are constant companions, often finishing each other's sentences. Surya acknowledges the attempts to break them up, but says it will never happen because "though we are two, we arc like one."
While Surya is a 5'3", 105-pound ball of tightly wound muscle, Suzanne stands nearly six feet tall, is as thin as a rawhide shoelace and is just as tough. Suzanne's craggy features, short curtain of bangs and habit of pursing her lips and clamming up when she's perturbed—silence gathering until it's unbearable—dovetail with her image as an eccentric Svengali.
But is she really an ogre or just a doting mother who is in over her head? And what of Surya? Is she "stupid," as Gailhaguet says, because she might have been the best ever? Or does she, at the age of 21, stay the course with her mother because "I think it is fate that brought us together; I fell on a good family"?
Surya and Suzanne have made grievous career blunders, but some of their assessments of those who criticize them are deadly accurate. The world of skating is a hidebound and venal place. This is a sport full of illusions—civility on the medal podium and competitors sucker-punching one another behind the scenes. Skating wants ladies' champions to look like artful ballerinas but lunge into triple jumps like predators.
But Suzanne Bonaly doesn't equivocate. She says, "I like the power."