The lines between what exactly an amateur figure skater is and what exactly a professional figure skater is have changed. Amateur figure skaters are really eligible figure skaters. Eligible means these skaters qualify to participate fully in the activities of U.S. Figure Skating or Skate Canada and/or in the activities of the International Skating Union.
Eligible figure skaters may receive pay for coaching and compete in sanctioned competitions which offer prize money. An eligible skater is really what once was an amateur figure skater. It is now no longer necessary to make the big decision to "turn pro," but if a figure skater takes part in a non-sanctioned skating competition, he or she will lose his or her eligibility to compete, and has made what was once the big decision to "turn pro."
The term "turn pro" is rarely used anymore since now, competitive figure skaters do not lose their eligibility from earning money from teaching skating, but participating in certain ice shows that have not been approved by US Figure Skating, Skate Canada, or the ISU International Skating Union can destroy a figure skater's eligibility.
In the past, waiting to "turn pro" also meant that most of the people that taught skating were very accomplished and qualified skaters. Figure skaters made sure that they achieved all they wanted to as amateurs before "turning pro." All coaches were usually gold medalists and former regional, sectional, national, or international competitors. Unqualified skaters were not hired by ice rinks or skating clubs.
Now that very accomplished skaters and also very beginning skaters can "turn pro," anyone can teach skating in the United States. This means that people with very little credentials or experience can call themselves figure skating coaches. This issue disturbs many people in the figure skating community, and it is true that many ice rinks in the USA do have unqualified individuals on their teaching staff. Canada is a bit more strict regarding who is allowed to coach skating in their arenas.
Ice skating shows, on the other hand, have made it more difficult for unqualified skaters to take part in professional skating. For example, Disney On Ice expects its performers to be at least junior level skaters, so "turning pro," to skate and perform professionally, means a skater is very, very qualified to perform in front of audiences.
How Janet Champion Was Forced to "Turn Pro":Figure skating coach, Janet Champion, was a child star in Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies. At the age of eight, Champion entered a statewide contest -- the California State Exchange Club Contest -- where she performed a series of acrobatic moves and jumps. Her performance was so outstanding, that she won the contest out of 3,000 other entries. She was presented with a trophy and a cash prize of $500. At the time, her parents did not know that accepting a cash prize would end Champion's amateur status. In those days, accepting any money for a sports-related activity, meant that an individual had become a "professional" and was ineligible for competitive amateur athletics. The San Diego Figure Skating Club soon informed Champion's coaches and parents, that her future as a competitive skater was over.
Other "Turn Pro" Stories:
- When U.S. ice skating legend, Janet Lynn, "turned pro," Ice Follies gave her a three-year contract for $1,455,000. She became the highest-paid female professional athlete at the time.
- In 1961, Olympic Figure Skating Champion, Carol Heiss, "turned pro," when she made a movie debut as Snow White in "Snow White and the Three Stooges."
- After Richard Ewell and Michelle McCladdie, who were the first African Americans in U.S. history to win a national pair skating title, won gold at the 1972 United States Figure Skating Championships in junior pairs, they signed a contract with Ice Capades. At the time, it may have been considered more advantageous for successful junior level African America figure skaters to "turn pro" than to try to "make it" as senior level national and/or international skaters.