25th Anniversary Canadian Synchronized Skating Championships, Chilliwack, BC
Opening Ceremonies Speech By Doug Steele
Wow, what a great video presentation! That sure brought back a lot of memories for me.
As many of you know, synchronized skating began back in the late 1970’s. It was a time when membership numbers were dropping and the average age of the Canadian skater was only 10.2 years. Elizabeth Swan had been assigned the task of finding ways to keep people involved in skating. She had an idea that would involve teams of skaters skating as one unit, performing chorus-line dancing on ice, intricate patterns like seen in synchronized swimming, and even kick lines like the famous New York Rockettes. Both Doug Leigh and I were members of that first committee and we thought Mrs. Swan was a bit daft to be thinking of such a crazy idea. Well, the idea caught on and the rest, as they say, is history.
Let me take you back a few years to 1982 when President David Dore asked me to be the National Chairman of a new discipline called Precision Team Skating and told me that I would be working with Jerry Watcher from the Ilderton Club in London, Ontario and that we would be responsible for staging the first Canadian Precision Team Skating Championship in March 1983…………..and thus began my 25 year love-affair with what is now known as Synchronized Skating.
My personal journey in synchronized skating has led me to train as a judge right up to the ISU Championship level and has given me the personal satisfaction of being involved in officiating at numerous competitions from nationals to international and World Champion levels and it also allowed me to be involved at many administrative levels over the years.
The first two Canadian Championships were held in London, Ontario – a location chosen because it was central and served many of the teams who were from the surrounding area. The national committee moved the site of the national championships in its third and fourth years to Thunder Bay and Vancouver. When all of the Central and Eastern teams traveled to Vancouver to compete in 1986, we knew that Precision Team Skating was here to stay.
During those early years, the national committee worked hard to draft rules, produce training manuals, train coaches and judges, and helped to support sectional, regional, and Canadian level competitions. The sport developed quickly; more and more skaters remained in skating, and CFSA membership numbers soared to over 200,000 and the number of registered synchronized skating teams totaled in excess of 450 !
Teams from Europe began to take notice of this discipline and Canada helped organize the first European competition in 1989. Interest in synchronized skating spread like wild-fire across Europe with increasing demands for Canadian manuals and training. How proud I was to see Canada taking such a strong leadership role in the development of this new discipline.
During the 1990s, the division between the recreational and competitive teams widened and a solution was needed to accommodate those teams who wanted to skate for fun and participation, and those who desired to compete nationally and internationally. Thus, in 1999 at the ACGM in Quebec City, the Skate Canada Board of Directors approved the concept of the Festival level synchronized skating. The first Festival event was held in Regina in 2001 and in 2004, Festival competition was held for the first time in conjunction with the National Championships that were hosted in Brandon.
The Bank of Montreal became the national sponsor of the Canadian Synchronized Skating Championships in 2003, national events were televised and synchronized skating once again proved to be a popular and viable outlet for many, many skaters across Canada.
By the mid 1990s, the first ever ISU Technical Committee for Synchronized Skating had been formed and what an honour it was for me to have been elected to this committee and to be able to continue Canada’s leading role in the development of this exciting new sport. The Committee changed the name from Precision Team Skating to Synchronized Skating and developed the rules and procedures that would lead synchronized skating to the World Championship level. What a proud moment it was when the first World Championship was actually held, and how pleased I was to see one of our Canadian teams come home with a silver medal. Twenty-one teams from 17 nations had entered this first world championship event indicative of the tremendous growth and development of this sport around the world.
Canada hosted the World Championships in 2003 and again in 2007 and the crowds were overwhelming. A Canadian team stood on the podium at both of these championships and the cheering was heard far and wide.
What’s next? Well, many are hopeful that synchronized skating will one day be recognized as an Olympic event. We will anxiously wait to see how that develops.
In the meantime, we are here in Chilliwack for a very special national championship. Since that inaugural event in London, Ontario in 1983, it has been truly remarkable how synchronized skating has developed and changed over these past twenty-five years. To the Board of Directors of Skate Canada, I extend a huge thank-you for the support you have provided over the years to the teams, the coaches, and the officials, and for your belief and support of this team concept in skating. I truly believe that we have achieved the goals set forth by Elizabeth Swan and her committee and I know she would be very pleased if she were here today to see how much this aspect of our sport has grown.
Congratulations to all the teams who are taking part in this 25th Anniversary edition of the Canadian Synchronized Skating Championships. Skate well, have fun, and good luck to everyone.