Compared to other skating disciplines that have been around for nearly 150 years, synchro is the new kid on the block.
Historically, as early as 1838, there are references to something in England called “combined figure skating” practiced at the Oxford Skating Society, but after that, reports of organized group skating dry up. Over a century would pass until the 1950s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when the sport would get its first foot-hold as an official skating pursuit in North America.
It was called “precision skating”.
The activity began rather innocently as a fun hobby in which more recreationally-based athletes could concentrate their efforts on team skating, groups of skaters performing moves in unison across the ice. Initially those performances were full of cutesy moves … toe tapping, hand clapping and hip slapping … more attuned to glitzy show biz than to quality skating.
But all of that was about to change. As experts began to recognize the young sport’s potential for promoting good skating in a new and different form, precision skating started to get some well-deserved attention.
Up until then, outside of tests up to the gold level, there were few places for non-traditional competitors to go, no competitive arena to build those skills that helped promote goal-setting, perseverance, creativity and artistry. If you weren’t in the elite competitive stream, skating was a dead end for many participants. With precision skating, suddenly there were new opportunities to advance, bringing fresh life to the sport and welcoming a whole new community of individuals, including athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers.
During the 1960s the sport spread in popularity in Canada and the US bringing with it competition and new ideas. It was an exciting time of growth and rapid development when teams were pushing precision skating boundaries by performing more creative and innovative routines. Gradually, focus on the types of choreographic content was evolving too, identifying and discarding more clichéd moves in favour of adding difficulty and skill … in other words … with the goal to develop quality skating.
Finally in 1977, the Ilderton Winter Club in Western Ontario hosted the first ever Canadian Invitational Precision Skating Competition and in 1983, next door in London, the first sanctioned National Precision Skating Championships were held. Overall, there were 60 teams registered to compete … 22 teams made it to the finals. Just one year later, the U.S. followed Canada’s lead and established its own National Precision Skating Championships.
By the end of the ‘80s, Canada was dominant on the international stage sweeping the podium in the senior category at the first international precision skating competition in Sweden. With such remarkable success and the resulting international attention, more and more enthusiasts were interested in joining the blossoming precision movement.
Precision skating was becoming the rage! As a result, countries had to move fast to expand membership, develop more categories for a greater variety of participation and agree on clearly defined rules and standards of competition.
Despite the growth in Canada and the US, it would take the International Skating Union (ISU) another decade to recognize precision skating as an official discipline of figure skating and in 1994 to sanction international competitions. Back here at home in 1995, Canada hosted its first ever ISU international precision skating event, the Precision Canada International in Toronto.
Perhaps the biggest change came off the ice a few years later in 1998 when the sport officially changed its name to “synchronized skating” to adopt more internationally understood terminology. After that, growth was so fast around the world that just two years later in 2000 at the very first official ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there were 21 teams competing from 17 countries. Canada’s team, black ice, made history by winning the silver medal.
Since then, Canadian teams have been on the podium ten times including in 2009 when Canada hit another milestone. After years of finishing in third place, Canada finally struck gold. NEXXICE, from Western Ontario and the Burlington Skating Club, coached by Shelley Simonton Barnett and Anne Schelter, won Canada’s very first gold medal, the only gold Canada has won to date against the currently dominant Nordic countries.
At this year’s World Championships in Hamilton at the FirstOntario Centre April 10th and 11th … and with home ice advantage … NEXXICE will once again carry Canada’s banner into competition along with Les Sûpremes from Quebec’s CPA St Leonard.
To claim that honour, both teams competed recently at the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in Quebec City where NEXXICE won an unprecedented ninth consecutive senior title. Along with Les Sûpremes, those two teams are considered role models for the 800 other skaters on forty of the country’s best teams competing at nationals.
It’s no surprise that to have that kind of national and international success, synchro runs deep in Canada.
This year 6500 skaters were registered on 467 teams at all levels of expertise across the country. From beginners to experts, for fun or for medals, skating at home or abroad, participating in synchro is good news for everyone! It can be as light-hearted or as competitive as the motivation of the individual skater.
While teams around the world concentrate on continuing to push the level of skating to amazingly high standards; while more countries and more skaters become involved, the sport is approaching another major turning point.
The dream to compete in the Olympic Games may be coming into focus.