Synchronized skating championships take Boston by storm
By Kat Hasenauer Cornetta
Sit in the front row at a synchronized skating practice and prepare to feel like you’re driving down a long, lone country road with all of your windows and the sunroof open.
The 16 skaters who move by you are going at speeds close to speed skaters, skating in positions shared by figure skaters, and racing towards each other like opposing hockey players. They have, essentially, combined the three-skate based Winter Olympic sports into one technically difficult but absolutely beautiful sport.
The pinnacle of synchronized skating, a non-Olympic sport, is the World Synchronized Skating Championships. Twenty teams from around the globe – including surprising locales such as South Africa and Mexico – are taking the ice at Boston’s Agganis Arena this weekend to vie for “synchro’s” biggest title.
Sweden’s Team Surprise are the defending champions, having won last year’s title in their home country. Sweden and Finland are two of the sport’s powerhouses and have won 12 of the 13 world titles awarded through history. Out of those 12 titles, the Team Surprise program itself has taken six of them, the most by any individual team in the sport. Their 2012 win, however, was their first since 2007 – their longest drought.
Team Surprise took the World Championships practice ice on Thursday, showing off their program to a melody of songs by Beyonce (synchro allows programs to use music with vocals – the opposite of what casual figure skating viewers are used to). During their practice, Team Surprise’s strength showed in their individual and small pairing skills – lifts, spins, and partner moves that lend a lot to their choreography.
While lifts may get the audible gasp from the crowd, the sport’s building blocks are formation work. Skaters move together in blocks, lines and wheels, joined together by a variety of holds. They will join together by holding each others’ shoulders in a shoulder-to-shoulder hold. They might amp up the difficulty by grabbing the hand of the skater two skaters down the formation in a basketweave hold. Skating down ice in a line doesn’t sound difficult, but it is when you’re moving at full speed while holding tight to two teammates and needing to keep an aesthetically perfect distance from the lines ahead and in back of you.
Russia’s Tatarstan team focused on the precision of their formations during their practice Thursday and added a thick layer of drama as they practiced their short program to a French rock song. While skaters are moving down ice in their formation and trying desperately not to trip over each other, they also work on artistry and presentation. Arm movements and facial expressions also need to be in sync with each other and look strong enough to be seen from the uppermost part of the arena.
While this weekend’s World Championships are the highest prize teams like Team Surprise and Tatarstan can vie for, there is hope that synchronized skating can make the leap to the Olympics within the next decade. The International Skating Union recognized the sport in 1994.
In 2010, the sport celebrated its tenth world championship – an important milestone in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Though the IOC appears to be in a retraction mode as a whole, synchro’s supporters hope that the sport’s growth (there are now 579 teams in the United States alone, and even nations without strong individual skating backgrounds are beginning to field teams) may push their cause among the powers-that-be.
Despite the lack of Olympic status, synchronized skaters will continue to show off their teamwork, power and grace with the hope that their sport soon will be as well-known by the general public as their single skating counterparts.