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The History of Figure Skating

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1984 Olympic Ice Dance Champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean

1984 Olympic Ice Dance Champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean

Photo by Steve Powell - Getty Images
Just before the 2010 Winter Olympics, a sixth grade student, named Lauren, contacted Jo Ann Schneider Farris, About.com's Guide to Figure Skating. Lauren was doing a research project at school and had some excellent questions about the history of figure skating. The answers to her questions are included in this article.

What are some very famous Olympic figure skaters from past to present?

There are also many famous people who have been a part of ice skating history.

Who invented Olympic figure skating with music and costumes, and why did they create this sport?

The founder of the figure skating of today is Jackson Haines, an American ballet dancer and ice skater. Haines lived a very short life (from 1840–-1879). He was the first skater to incorporate ballet, music, and dance movements into skating. His style of skating included athletic jumps, leaps, turns, and spins. He was the first skater to attach ice skating blades to boots with screws. His style was called the "International Style of Skating." It did not become popular in the U.S. until many years after his death. The first U.S. figure skating competition in the "International Style" was not held until 1914.

Was the skating of men or women in the Olympics more popular when it started, and why?

At first, only men competed in figure skating events. In 1902, a woman named Madge Syers, entered the World Figure Skating Championships. Her presence caused much controversy, so the International Skating Union quickly banned women from competing against men. A separate event for "ladies" was established in 1906.

The first Olympic figure skating events were part of the 1908 Summer Olympics. Events for both men and women took place at that Olympics. The men's events may have been more popular since the skaters were more experienced and established at the time.

What were the reactions of people when Olympic figure skating started?

Figure skating is called "Figure Skating" because, years ago, designs were skated on clean ice in the shape of a figure eight. These complex designs were called figures.

Special figures were a part of figure skating in the late 19th Century and in the early 20th Century. Very complicated and elaborate patterns invented by the skater were drawn on the ice with the skater's blades. Some designs that were created included rosettes, stars, and crosses. Each special figure was really a work of art. The only year special figures took place in the Olympics was in 1908. Nikolai Panin of Russia won the event and was Russia's first Olympic Champion.

Figures were the most important part of the original Olympic figure skating events, but were not fun for spectators to watch or understand. For that reason, the general public was not all that excited about watching figure skating at the first Olympics.

In the mid 1930s, Olympic Champion, Sonja Henie, increased the popularity of figure skating. She introduced the idea of white figure skates and short skating skirts. Her beauty, and her athletic ballet style increased figure skating's popularity world wide.

What are a few of the changes of general figure skating from when it started thousands of years ago to now, and why?

The earliest ice skating began about 4,000 years ago in Finland. The first skates were flattened bone that was strapped to the bottom of the foot. In the 13th Century, the Dutch invented steel blades with edges. In the Netherlands, all classes of people skated. Ice skating was a way people traveled over the canals in the winter months. James II introduced ice skating to the British aristocracy in the late 1600s. Queen Victoria also enjoyed ice skating.

Today, ice skating can actually be done year-round since there are indoor ice arenas all over the world. People of all ages participate in ice skating, even though the majority of ice skaters are children and teens.

How has figure skating become more advanced through the years?

From its appearance in the first modern Olympic Games in 1908, to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and beyond, figure skating has gone through amazing changes. Beginning in the 1930s, Sonja Henie's movies and ice skating shows such as Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies brought the sport into the public spotlight.

Figure skating especially changed in the last part of the twentieth century when compulsory figures were eliminated from most figure skating competitions. The sport has become more and more athletic through the years. Triple revolution jumps are done by all elite figure skaters. Ice dancing and pair skating are also exciting and athletic events.

A new figure skating judging system was implemented in 2004. The "Perfect 6.0" no longer exists. Ice skating competitions are no longer predictable.

Are there any books you feel I should read or people I should contact? If so, could you please list them?

There are many books available about figure skating. Listed below are some of the best:

Is there any printed material (pamphlets or brochures) you could send me about figure skating?

U.S. Figure Skating is the official governing body of figure skating in the United States. The organization has some complimentary brochures and pamphlets that may be of interest to ice skating fans and to those new to figure skating. Contact U.S. Figure Skating for more information.

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