History of Figure Skating
Whether you’re a competitive skater or just learning how to ice skate, knowing the history of figure skating isn’t just a good idea – it’s essential to understanding the sport’s rules! If you’re new to figure skating or just need to refresh your memory, read on for a short history of figure skating, brought to you by Discount Skatewear, your home for figure skating apparel, equipment and information on the Web.
The History of Figure Skating Part I: The Beginnings
Although ice skating has been a popular sport for hundreds of years, figure skating has its roots in late-1700s Britain, where skaters performed “compulsory figures,” the practice of carving specific figures into the ice.
Although modern figure skating is named for this antiquated practice, today’s choreographed programs bear little resemblance to the formal routines performed back then. Figure skating as we know it can be traced only to the 1860s, when an American skater and ballet dancer, Jackson Haines, set his routine to music, melding traditional ice skating with ballet steps.
Haines’ take on figure skating was not well received in the US, and he left the States to try his luck in Vienna, where his method – known as the “International Style” – took off, prompting a series of skating championships and leagues to be formed in the 1890s. At first, the only skaters who competed were men – a far cry from today’s skating field, which is brimming with talented girls and ladies. In 1902, the first woman to compete in the World Championship, Madge Syers, took home second place.
History of Figure Skating Part II: Olympic Inclusion
The beginning of the 1900s saw figure skating become a more mainstream sport, with Olympic inclusion beginning in 1908 and American involvement in the sport finally increasing. The U.S. Figure Skating Association, now known as U.S. Figure Skating, came together in 1921, incorporating qualification standards for competition.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Norwegian skater Sonja Henie played a large role in figure skating history, both influencing women’s skating and the crossover between skating and show business. A three-time Olympic gold medalist and 10-time World Championship skater, Henie dominated the figure skating scene for more than a decade. Infamous for wearing a short pleated skirt and white boots on the ice, Henie is credited for creating the modern ladies’ figure skating dress.
History of Figure Skating Part III: Modern Icons and Events
Despite figure skating’s increased popularity in the last century, the sport has seen some low points as well – particularly in 1961, when the entire U.S. Olympic team died in a plane crash, forcing the Americans into a rebuilding period and helping propel the Soviet Union to the forefront of the sport.
At the same time, the widespread use of TV and video has made figure skating more of a spectator sport than ever. Until the 1960s, up to 60 percent of a skater’s score could come from their performance of figures, the rigid old-fashioned skating routine, with the freestyle program taking a backseat.
However, figures don’t make for particularly entertaining TV. Because freestyle skating better showcases a skater’s athleticism, grace and creativity, the International Skating Union progressively decreased the importance of figures from 1968 on, eliminating them altogether in 1990.
Today figure skating is one of the most-watched Olympic sports and is surging in popularity throughout Asia. This popularity is bringing a new set of elite skaters to the forefront, bringing the history of figure skating to a brand-new audience.
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