By Nicole Davies
Picture the Radio City Rockettes flying around an ice arena on quarter-inch steel blades, moving at least five times their normal speed, while performing intricate edges, footwork, lifts and other precise movements in addition to their signature kicks and formations.
Never heard of it? Maybe because it’s not an official Olympic sport. It should be.
Synchronized skating, or “synchro” as the athletes call it, has come a long way since it’s 1956 founding by Dr. Richard Porter but not far enough to make a debut in the Olympics. In 2009, 23 teams from 18 countries qualified for and competed at the World Synchronized Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia. This was an increase from the original 16 countries represented at the first official World Championships in Minneapolis in 2000.
After half a century of existence and almost a decade of World Championships, the Winter Universiade (World University Games) recognized synchro for the first time in Torino, Italy during the 2007 games. Eight countries competed including Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy and Japan. Inclusion in the World University Games signified a step in the right direction, towards representation at the Olympics.
In 2010 synchronized skating will take another big step to become recognized as an Olympic sport. The 2009 World Champions, Nexxice of Canada, will be an exhibition team at the Winter Games in Vancouver. Performing as an exhibition sport implies that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally recognizes synchronized skating.
To become an official Olympic sport, the sport must be recognized as part of an International Federation (IF), an international, non-governmental organization recognized by the IOC as administering sports at world level. Synchronized skating meets this requirement because the International Skating Union (ISU), an IF, recognizes synchronized skating as a discipline of figure skating. The Synchronized Skating World Championships are an ISU sanctioned event.
Other requirements of Olympic sports, in addition to recognition from the IOC, include certain membership worldwide. According to the IOC it must be “widely practiced around the world.” There were 18 countries represented at the 2009 World Synchronized Skating Championships, plus additional countries that field teams and host National Championships that were not represented at this year’s World Championships. For example, Great Britain, South Africa, Estonia and Iceland have all competed in past World Championships even though they weren’t represented in 2009. Additionally, many countries, such as Spain and Poland have developing synchro programs.
According to the IOC, figure skating is the oldest sport of the Winter Games. Skaters competed at the 1908 London Games and at the 1920 Antwerp Games. In addition to the men’s, women’s, and pairs competition, the IOC added ice dancing as a fourth event in 1976. Ice dancing is proving a great success. Synchronized skating, as the most rapidly growing discipline of figure skating, adds an exciting third dimension to ice dancing, and would be the most popular discipline yet. Between 2008 and 2009 synchronized skating in the United States grew 7%, from 524 teams to 562.
Olympic sports results must be ranked. There has to be a winner based on scores, timing or measurement. Synchronized skating is a ranked sport based on scores. Competitors and judges follow the same International Judging System (IJS) as the singles, pairs and dance disciplines of figure skating.
Olympic sports require a physical not mechanical performance. Synchronized skating is a completely physical performance. Competitive teams practice upwards of 15 to 20 hours every week, including on and off-ice training, cardiovascular conditioning, Pilates, yoga, core strength, lifting, stretching, and drilling the program on and off the ice to perfect synchronization.
High-level synchronized skating athletes follow the same anti-doping rules as Olympic athletes. They sacrifice opportunities in life to be dedicated to their sport and to their team, just like Olympic athletes. They are committed and determined to train for hours on end to perfect their athletic performance, just like Olympic athletes. They skate for their team, and they represent their country with honor at international sporting events, just like Olympic athletes.
Join the fight to earn representation for synchronized skating. Attend competitions and tell your friends. Get exposure for the sport. Synchronized team skaters deserve to compete at the Winter Olympic Games alongside their fellow skaters, their fellow countrymen and their fellow athletes.