By Lauren Salter
Synchronized skating has its roots in the mid 19th century, in what were known as club carnivals. These carnivals were held annually and were produced in short periods of time with concentrated rehearsals beforehand. Over time these carnivals became too costly to produce and fewer occurred. The decline of carnivals necessitated the need of new performance outlets for skaters as many teenage girls quit figure skating to try other activities once they were unable to advance in the extremely competitive world of figure skating.
Richard Porter understood these girls were quitting because they lacked challenging opportunities to compete, as well as to perform. Porter organized a team of 16 girls in 1954, and choreographed programs for the group to present at the University of Michigan’s hockey games. In a few years his team, the Hockettes, were attracting so many skaters it doubled in size and Porter had to hold tryouts each year.
Teams begun to spring up in other areas as well. Porter’s new sport, precision skating, differed from the club carnivals of the past in that precision was a yearlong sport. In 1976, Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club the home club of Porter’s team, sponsored a precision competition and invited teams throughout the US and Canada. The Dr. Richard Porter Classic is still hosted annually today.
Competition expanded internationally in the 1980’s as precision spread across the globe. Australia and Japan were the first countries outside of North America to form teams. In 1990, six countries were represented at the Snowflake invitational precision competition, (Canada, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, US). The sport was renamed synchronized skating in 1999 as it was believed synchronized skating was a more internationally understood term.
The first World Championship was held in Minneapolis in 2000 with 21 teams from 16 countries. In 2002 the World Championship was held in Rouen France with 19 countries competing including the Netherlands, Estonia, Croatia, Iceland, and Belgium, just to mention a few. The World Championship has been held in the US, Croatia, France, Prague, Hungary, Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland. Sweden and Finland won every year from 2000-2010; excluding 2009 when Canada took the gold. The only other country to reach the podium in addition to Finland, Sweden and Canada is the United States (Miami University with silver in 2007, and the Haydenettes with bronze in 2010).
In 2007, Miami University first exhibited as a demonstration sport in the World University Games, and in 2009 the team participated in the Games in Harbin, China. Synchronized skating has grown tremendously, with more than 530 teams in the United States alone, and countless more abroad. To be included in the Winter Olympic Games the Olympic Charter states that only sports widely practiced in at least 25 countries and on three continents may be included in the program of the Olympic winter games” (Olympic Charter 1995, p.78). Since the World Championship for synchronized skating started in 2000, there have been about 20 countries competing each year. This number needs to increase in order for the sport to be eligible for inclusion in the Olympic Games.