From Eight to Sixteen – The Story of a Synchronized Skating Team

Skating isn’t all about the medals.

It’s about the memories.

Medals are a bonus though.

During the Arborg Skating Club‘s 1988/1989 season, our coach produced three successful synchronized (precision) skating teams. I was on the eight-member senior team, winning two silver medals. Two competitions, two silver medals. Not too shabby.

We won our second silver medal at the 1989 Interlake Winter Games in Arborg, Manitoba – our home club – runners up to the St. Andrews Precise-ettes Novice team. However, the competition wasn’t an advancer. Merely a trial run to gauge participation. The Winter Games were deemed a success, and Gimli, Manitoba would host for the figure skating portion of the 1990 Interlake Winter Games.

Those games would be an advancer for the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games in Carmen, Manitoba. The gold and silver medallists from each singles category would advance – plus the gold medal synchro team.

However our coach, Joanne Hough, explained while the St. Andrews Precise-ettes Novice team were expected to win the 1990 Interlake Winter Games, they would (most likely) pass the torch to the silver medallists, who’d attend the games in Carmen. According to the 1989/1990 rules, a team was prohibited from competing at the Manitoba Winter Games and the provincial championships in the same year. No doubt St. Andrews would rather compete for another ticket to the Canadians than attend the Manitoba Winter Games.

Ergo, we were aiming for that silver medal.

It wasn’t that simple. First challenge – our eight-member team. We were so small, two sets of sisters made half our team – and I was part of that half. The smallest team allowed at the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games was eight. That season, our coach wanted the maximum amount – a 16-member team.

However, it wouldn’t be the so-called easy breezy 1988/1989 season.

In September 1989, before fall skating school, we were on two missions: finding eight skaters and choreographing our program in the elementary school gymnasium. We recruited three skaters from our middle-age Arborg team, however, one skater pulled double duty – skating on her former team and ours.

In the gym, while the 11 of us sashayed to “The Doctor” by the Doobie Brothers, “Thru These Walls” by Phil Collins, and “Come Dancing” by The Kinks, we’d pitch names to Joanne of skaters with previous synchro experience who may want to compete.

Who wouldn’t want to compete at the Manitoba Winter Games? Yes, I’d already pre-punched my ticket to Carmen.

During fall school, we were still struggling to expand our team. Luckily, two “retired” Arborg skaters with synchro skaters eagerly jumped on our team. Today, one doesn’t quit skating, they retire. Age isn’t a factor. I almost choked on a gluten free cracker when I heard a skater retired at twelve years old.

After an exhaustive search, our club was tapped out. According to the rules, teams could have skaters from different towns. A skater from Inwood joined our team since Joanne was her coach. Then, Joanne said, “There’s two girls from Riverton.” There’s been a rivalry between Arborg and Riverton since the 1950s, and no one knows the reason. It made for interesting hockey games. But this was figure skating. Yes, approach them!

And we were sixteen. But, there was another issue.

IMG_20151019_162419~2
The 1989/1990 Arborg Junior Team with our coach, Joanne Hough. Two team members are missing from this photo. I’m third from the left in the back row.

According to the rules for the Winter Games, members of the synchronized skating teams must be age seventeen or under. One of our skaters wouldn’t be able to compete at the Games. Plan B was the entire team would compete at the Manitoba Championships and the Interlake Regional Precision Competition.

If we didn’t make it to the Winter Games in Carmen.

But we were double silver-plated the last season. Runners up to St. Andrews at the previous Interlake Winter Games. They were the unbeatable team. We were at least on the judges radar for the silver. Plus we were once a mighty team of eight, and we’d grown into a powerful 16-member team. Why wouldn’t we win silver?

Because life doesn’t happen as planned.

We didn’t advance to the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games. We won the bronze medal.

In fact, we almost didn’t medal after placing fourth in unexpected compulsories. Expected, but not the ones we’d be practising. After the free program – despite two falls – we placed third and won the overall bronze.

When the results were announced, I believe I was the only team member who cheered. I turned and saw one of my teammates, and she looked so sad. As expected, the St. Andrews Precise-ettes Novice team bypassed the Manitoba Winter Games, giving the opportunity to the silver medallists, who placed fourth overall in Carmen. On the upside, the medals at the 1990 Interlake Games and 1990 Manitoba Winter Games look the same. They’re heavier, similar to an Olympic medal.

But that bronze pushed us. The Interlake Winter Games were in January, and our season was far from over. We had work to do, and we worked hard. It wasn’t easy. There were tears, triple run throughs, drills. And all worthwhile.

That February, we won the gold at provincials. And today – March 9, 1990, marks 29 years since we won the 1990 Interlake Precision Regional Competition over the St. Andrews Precise-ettes Novice team.

No one beats the St. Andrew Precise-ettes Novice team.

During the 1993 ice show – Aladdin on Ice – I skated a synchro exhibition performance with the senior skaters. We even reused some of the choreography from my former Junior team’s 1989/1990 season. But nothing matched the excitement of competitive synchro.

I’m proud to be part of the short legacy of the Arborg Precision teams. We skated for two seasons, and we never left a competition without hardware – amassing five medals.

Two seasons doesn’t sound like a long time, but in synchro years those memories last forever.
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*Cross-posted at http://www.29then40.wordpress.com

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