Synchronized skating is the fifth and newest discipline of figure skating. Teams of eight to 20 skaters blend elements of singles skating, pairs skating, and ice dance in side-by-side performances. They compete in two programs – the short program and the free skate – just like the other disciplines. More than 615 teams register and compete in the U.S. every year.
And the International Skating Union (ISU) wants it to be an Olympic sport in 2022.
A brief timeline:
- Synchronized skating began in the U.S. in 1956 when an organized group of skaters formed a team. The first synchronized skating competition was held 20 years later, and by 1984, the first U.S. national championships for the discipline were held.
- The first international competition was held in 1989 and in 1994, the ISU recognized the sport as a discipline of figure skating.
- Until 1998, the discipline was referred to as “precision skating.” The ISU decided in 1998 that “synchronized skating” would hold more appeal on the global scale.
- The first world championships were held in 2000.
As early as March 2014, immediately following the conclusion of the Sochi Games, then-ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta suggested adding the discipline to the Olympic program. A formal request was made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for approval in April 2015. That request was denied, likely for several reasons.
Adding synchronized skating would likely see a big increase in personnel, up to about 150 athletes, coaches, and support staff. Between nine and 10 teams of 16 competitors each would compete in a short program, and then the top six teams would advance to the free skate phase. The ISU originally wanted all-female teams, but remained flexible on the idea: They were willing to have teams of 14 women with two men.
Another hurdle for Olympic inclusion is the number of participating countries. While 28 countries on five continents have participated in synchronized skating at the world championship or junior world championship level, Scandinavian countries have dominated the gold medals. Sweden and Finland have won 14 of 18 available Worlds gold medals. Canada and Russia are the only other two countries to take the top spot on the podium.
China’s participation in the sport may also stand in the way of synchronized skating’s including at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. China has never competed at the world championships for synchronized skating.
Notably, Cinquanta’s proposal outlined that the synchronized skating event would not be designed to replace the team event. Instead, it would likely require additional days of competition. Jan Dijkema was elected the new ISU president in June 2016.
Despite a failed push for synchronized skating to be included at the 2018 Olympics as a discipline of figure skating, the ISU is not giving up.
The 2015 Grand Prix Final hosted a synchronized skating event for the first time. Five teams participated in the free skate-only competition.
Synchronized skating won’t be a part of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games, though; the program for that event has already been determined. The YOGs are often used as a testing ground for new sports to include at the Olympic Games.
In July 2017, an ISU Council Working Group was appointed to “investigate, strategize and gather the information required for Synchronized Skating to be accepted as an Olympic discipline,” according to the press release.
The group’s stated goal is to include synchronized skating in the Olympic program for the 2022 Games hosted in Beijing, China.
When the time comes, the USFS wants to be prepared.
“U.S. Figure Skating’s approach has been to put efforts into building the strongest U.S. program possible so that when/if synchronized skating is included in the Olympic Winter Games, U.S. teams will be prepared to stand on the podium,” their media guide for synchronized skating states.
The U.S.’ best team, the Boston area-based Haydenettes, would likely be first in line for a berth to the Olympics. They won their 25th national title in 2017, and own five world championships bronze medals.
At Worlds in 2016, the Haydenettes landed their fifth bronze medal. But that medal was significant for another reason – for the first time ever, the U.S. team won the free skate phase of the event. It wasn’t enough for gold, but it got the team on the podium.
At the most recent world championships, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2017, Russia’s team “Paradise” took home the gold. Finland’s “Marigold IceUnity” claimed the silver, while Canada’s “Nexxice” took home the bronze.
The Haydenettes finished in fourth place (video). The Crystallettes, the Michigan-based team that was also sent to Worlds, finished ninth.
The synchronized skating national championships are happening Feb. 22-24 in Portland, Oregon. The 2018 World Synchronized Skating Championships will be held April 6-7 in Stockholm, Sweden.