Synchronized figure skaters must have a lot of patience.
There was hope synchro might be included in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, but it didn’t happen. As the 2010 Vancouver Games inched closer, another carrot was dangled and then chopped up. In 2014, a glimmer of hope dashed when “team event” didn’t mean “synchro.”
With a sport that’s as old as Sputnik, the remote control, and Dr. Seuss’ publishing rights to the The Cat in the Hat, it’s frustrating when other sports serge ahead and another lags behind.
The movement for synchro to be included in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is a loud one. During the Olympics, synchro skaters set off a fire storm on Twitter. Using the hashtag #whynotsynchro, they questioned when it would be their time to shine during the games.
NSSA Skating Gala 2014! #whynotsynchro #whynotsynchro2018 pic.twitter.com/I4ReN82mFW
— Team Icicles (GBR) (@TeamIcicles) March 3, 2014
The reasons for the exclusion of synchro from the Winter Games, that I’m aware of, are it would be a logistically nightmare and the sport needs to reach more countries. Also on the excuse list, the sport needs more progression and the same teams dominate year after year. Plus, there aren’t any “Sidney Crosbys” to promote.
This year, 23 teams from 18 countries competed at the 2014 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Courmayeur, Italy. By comparison – women’s ice hockey at the Olympics included eight countries.
Each synchro team is allowed 16 performance skaters and up to four alternates. Add in a couple coaches and a few team managers, and the number could be reach 25. On paper, 25 may look daunting, but the total roaster for the Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics was 34. This didn’t include team doctors and equipment managers.
Logistically, housing synchro teams is possible. If they can house 23 teams at the worlds, they can do it at the Olympics. It just takes planning and management.
For years, the ISU and IOC has said the sport needs more progression. Promises of synchro, on the cusp of Olympic glory was promised in a 1990 CFSA skating magazine. The sport has progressed beyond the bobbing heads and kick-lines when synchro was a recreational pursuit. Today synchro requires the grace and strength of an ice dancer, the speed and talent of a singles skater, and the fearlessness of a pair skater.
Synchro skaters don’t just glide around delicately in blocks of 16 to classical music. They break off into lines eight with AC/DC blasting in the background and intersect while doing twizzles at lightning speeds, knowing full well they could catch another skater’s blade.
NEXXICE, one of Canada’s top senior level synchro teams, recently won a silver medal 2014 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. According to co-coach, Shelley Simonton Barnett, “skaters are putting their lives on hold” to skate synchro. She said a couple team members asked their professors if they could take their studies on the road.
“Some [instructors] are not too understanding,” Simonton Barnett said. “He [instructor] doesn’t understand because it’s not an Olympic sport.”
To skate synchro, like all disciplines, takes commitment. NEXXICE trains 12 to over 18 hours a week. When you have 20 schedules to coordinate, time is a precious commodity.
As for that silver medal, it was repeat performance from last year when NEXXICE was 0.52 short of a gold medal. Team Unique from Finland won their first gold medal in 2013, with NEXXICE second and the Haydenettes from the United States in third. This year, it was a different story. Team Finland 1 took the gold medal. However, it wasn’t Finland’s Team Unique rather Marigold Ice Unity. Despite being the defending world champions, Team Unique didn’t qualify for the 2014 Worlds. The same countries dominate, but not the same teams.
With five countries dominating synchro – Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia and the United States, does this mean it shouldn’t be an Olympic sport? Since 1998 when women’s ice hockey was introduced into the Olympics, Canada and the U.S. have faced each other in every gold medal game. Canada outscores the U.S. 4-1 in the gold tally. Does that mean we should take it out of the Olympics? I say, no.
When Patrick Chan won the Canadians year after year, did anyone for a moment think, hmm, this isn’t working, we should stop holding the Canadians. When Kurt Browning won his third straight world title, no one said, “That’s it, no more worlds!” It’s not about winning for some teams. It’s about the experience.
And sometimes the skaters we remember most never won an Olympic medal.
As for no Sid the Kid, what about Hayley Wickenheiser, Jennifer Jones, Cassie Campbell-Pascall? Today, they’re rock stars, but it took time, marketing, and the right sponsorship.
There are 23 synchro teams competing at the highest level open to them – the worlds. Since 2000, Canada has skated away with 10 medals.
It’s time synchronized skating moved another level. The International Olympic Committee did it for ice dance in 1976, the team event in 2014, and it’s time for synchronized figure skating in 2018.
If not, synchro skaters will have to be a little more patient.