The World Synchronized Skating Championships begin Friday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, marking the pinnacle of that sport this season.
So what is synchronized skating? Who are the teams to watch? And what’s this about the sport possibly being added to the Olympic program?
Have no fear. We’ve got you covered!
What is synchronized skating?
You’ve probably heard of singles and pairs figure skating, as well as ice dance, all of which are part of the Olympic Winter Games. Figure skating has another growing discipline, too, and it’s called synchronized skating. In this discipline, teams of eight to 20 skaters perform side by side on the ice. Just like the other figure skating disciplines, teams perform a short program and a free skate.
The goal is to perform fast and accurately, all the while executing formations and transitions.
This weekend’s world championships begin with the short program on Friday, and the free skate will be Saturday.
Who are the teams to watch?
The world will be watching to see if Finland and Sweden can continue their dominance at the most prestigious international event of the year. Over the past 17 years, the two countries have combined for 14 world titles, 12 silver medals and six bronze medals.
Meanwhile, Canada has twice won the world title while Russia reached the pinnacle for the first time in 2016. Those two, along with the Scandinavians, pose the biggest threat to keep the United States from reaching for gold at the Broadmoor World Arena.
Which teams are representing the United States?
Two American squads, the Haydenettes and Crystallettes, will compete in this weekend’s event that will feature 24 teams from 19 countries.
The Haydenettes, who train in Marlborough, Massachusetts, have consistently been the most dominant American team, winning the U.S. championships 25 times. The Crystallettes out of the Detroit area have won recent international events, including the 2012 Neuchatel Trophy and 2010 Prague Cup.
An Americans team has never won a world title, and the only U.S. silver medal came when the Miami University squad reached the podium in 2007. However, the Haydenettes have since won the bronze medal five times, including in 2016 after a two-year drought.
What did you say about synchronized skating in the Winter Games?
The International Olympic Committee iced the sport’s bid for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, but skaters and executives believe they’ve made great strides since.
Now they’re pushing to get on the agenda for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.
“The International Skating Union did work with the IOC for 2018, but unfortunately the IOC was not in favor of adding the sport,” said Leslie Graham, director of synchronized skating and skating programs for U.S. Figure Skating.
Crystallettes skater Emily Hollander might not get the chance to ever participate in Olympic synchronized skating. The 36-year-old first picked up the sport in 1992 and competed at the first world championship in 2000. That doesn’t make her any less excited about the possibility, though.
“I think every skater would want it to be an Olympic sport. It’s what our ultimate goal is,” said Hollander. “It’s more widely known than it used to be, and I feel like there are more people who understand it.”
Graham said the ISU would petition the IOC again for inclusion in the 2022 Beijing Games. She didn’t know exactly when a decision would be made, but said if the calendar falls like recent years, that decision could be in the summer of 2019 — almost a year and a half after the 2018 Winter Games.
What should fans expect to see at World Arena?
The sport has evolved over the last two decades, with more elements and training.
“Twenty years ago we didn’t do lifts and pair elements like now,” Hollander said. “Now we do two required lifts in the long program, and we’re required to have more upper body strength. I feel like we have more physical requirements now than back then.”
In addition, the ISU is working to make the sport more attractive to the IOC. Making the sport more appealing for TV is high on that list.
Graham said keeping the skaters together as a group rather than having them fan out and coming back together is important so that all skaters are in the same screen shot. Kind of like a marching band staying as a group and not spreading an entire football field.
Any why should you watch the event?
In addition to watching world-class athletes in an exciting sport, this event is also a rare opportunity to watch a world championship on U.S. soil.
“It’s a privilege to hold the world championship, and I think our teams feed off the energy,” Graham said. “There’s going to be so much excitement and noise, and there will certainly be a lot of red, white and blue.”
Added Hollander: “Nothing beats the feeling of being on the ice and having everyone cheering for you. It’s so loud and very uplifting.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.