By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was no pair more well known in US Figure Skating than Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia. Together, they won five United States Championships and won the 1979 World Championships. Qualifying for two Olympic games where they placed 5th in 1976. In 1980 they were the heavy favorites going into the Olympic Games, even considered as the “darlings” of the games but their competition was cut short due to an injury that ended the pair’s Olympic pursuits.

Following the Olympics, Gardner and Babilonia transitioned to professional figure skating, during that time athletes were not allowed to compete in the Olympics once they turned professional. Touring with the Ice Capades, Gardner and Babilonia were able to make a professional career out of their capabilities on the ice.

During the late 1970s, Gardner began exploring life as a gay man, while he was not out of the closet, he wasn’t entirely in it either. Allowing himself to explore romance during his amateur figure skating days, it wasn’t until he turned professional where he really began to blossom. Even then, there was some cause for concern. Most notably the public’s reaction to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova which was considered mixed to negative and created hesitancy for Gardner. In addition, with King and Navratilova losing sponsors because of coming out, as a skater for the “family friendly” Ice Capades, would people still buy tickets to watch him perform? Would the Ice Capades drop him? It was hard to say. In addition, as the HIV/AIDS crisis was hitting, the physical and social effects of the disease, most notably the stigma it created of gay men, was very concerning.

All this and more are profiled in Gardner’s new documentary, “Go Figure: The Randy Gardner Story”. Directed by Sharidan Sotelo, the documentary features footage from Gardner’s one man show, skating career, and home movies, coupled with interviews from Gardner, Babilonia, Dorothy Hamill and others. It offers intimate look into Gardner’s story in navigating the world of competitive and professional figure skating as a young gay man during one of the most transformative periods of modern LGBTQ+ history.

The documentary made its official public premier in February on PBS and is available to stream on the PBS app.

Photo Credit: Randy Gardner via Go Figure: The Randy Gardner Story Facebook Page