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Light years between then and now

15 SEP 2011 13:36
The evolution of synchronized skating has been enormous over the last decade, with new elements added and more teams competing. But it all started 58 years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
  • Created: 15 SEP 2011 13:36

Granted, some state that the Oxford Skating Society in England practiced "combined figure skating" already in 1838, but the first real precision skating team (as it was called back then) was formed by Dr. Richard Porter in 1954. The team entertained the audience during the intermissions of the local hockey team's games.

In the 1960's, new teams were formed in several places over North America, and the first local competitions were held.

It was during the 1970's, as the sport grew enourmously, that the first international competition took place. It was between Canadian and American teams in Michigan in March of 1976. The maneuvers performed by the teams constantly became more and more advanced, and included increasingly complicated figure skating elements.

But the sport would soon spread overseas. In the mid 1980's precision skating came to Europe and rapidly evolved especially in Sweden and Finland. Shortly after that the first national championships were held in several countries. The Canadians Championships were first in 1983, followed by the United States Championships in 1984.

In 1987, Japan and Australia had participated in international precision skating competitions, thus becoming the first non-North Americans to do so. Swedish and Finnish teams followed in a 1989 competition in Toronto. Christian Wieland, today an international technical controller and judge in the sport, was one of the Swedish Team Surprise skaters who participated.

- It was so amazing. The stands were packed with thousands of people. It was clear that the North American teams had a show oriented style, where our skating was more inspired by ice dance. But the judges liked us too and we came in third, Wieland remembers.

The International Skating Union (ISU) gave precision skating official recognition as a discipline of figure skating in 1994. Two years later, in 1996, the first ISU World Precision Challenge Cup took place in Boston, Massachusetts. It was won by Team Surprise of Sweden, who had dominated the sport during the 1990´s.

- It was so exciting and fun, and it was an honour to participate. The ISU recognition was important, we felt that it became a more serious competition at this point, says Karin Gustafsson, Team Captain of Team Surprise between 1997-2000.

After the first World Challenge Cup had been held, the ISU changed the official name of the sport to synchronized skating. In 2000 the first official World Synchronized Skating Championships were held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A total of 21 teams from 17 countries participated. Once again Team Surprise of Sweden came out on top to win the first ever World Championship gold medal.

- The pressure and the expectations were huge. Competition-wise there wasn't much of a difference from before. But, we had looked forward to this for so many years. Winning the gold was a big goal for us, Karin Gustafsson says.

Since then, the World Synchronized Skating Championships have been held annually,  and with few exceptions dominated by Sweden and Finland. Team Surprise of Sweden has won the competition five times (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007). Two Finnish teams have three titles each, Rockettes won in 2008, 2010 and 2011, while Marigold IceUnity earned gold in 2002, 2004 and 2006. The Canadian team Nexxice, who won in 2009, is the only non-Swedish or Finnish team to make it to the top spot.

- The competition is much harder today than ten years ago. There are so many strong teams now, Karin Gustafsson says.

Since 2004, the ISU judging system is used for competitions in synchronized skating. This has changed the sport immensely.

- There is light years between what we did before and what the teams do today. If you look at a video from 1986 you see that synchronized skating was more about making formations back then. Today the sport demands so much more from each skater, you need to have the technique, the charisma, the courage, the agility, and the stamina that it takes to perform all the different elements. It's a totally different sport, Karin Gustafsson says.

Christian Wieland gives an example of exactly how big the difference is.

- People would gasp when we did a simple intersection just skating backwards. Today the teams are doing box intersections while doing difficult steps in both directions, he says. 

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