Originally known as “precision skating,” synchronized skating started in Ann Arbour Michigan when Dr. Richard Porter started his own team in the 1970s. He organized the first competition which was held in Ann Arbour in 1976 and has been held in his name annually ever since. The first international competition took place in Sweden in 1989 with seven nations competing which led to the International Skating Union (ISU) to officially recognize synchronized skating as a discipline in 1994. The World Synchronized skating championships started in 2000 and has been held in different spots around the world since.
But synchronized skating has changed a lot since 2000 and 19 years later and sport has still been left out of the Olympics.
As many skaters across the world wait anxiously for another winter games to come around many are aware that synchronized skating will yet again not be added to the Olympic games in 2022.
Alexis Murray, sophomore marketing student at SUNY Oswego has been skating for 15 years and skating on a synchronized skating or “synchro” team for 10.
She is hopeful that synchro will be added to the Olympics in 2026, “but I really don’t know because we’ve already gotten denied for three of them and they don’t seem to be changing anything so who knows,” Murray said.
Currently in the United States there are around 600 teams registered with U.S. Figure Skating with around five thousand athletes competing annually at sectional championships.
But synchro offers a new side to skating that many have never seen or heard of before.
For many synchro skaters describing the sport to the average person they would say it is like synchronized swimming except the water is frozen and they have blades strapped to their feet.
Synchro offers something different than the average figure skating people are used to seeing.
“Skating is a very individual sport or you just have your pair, so one other person, and this is getting 16 to 20 girls or guys to do one thing the same and all the shapes and styles and lifts,” Murray said.
In writing Ariane, Kimberly and Melody, former synchro skaters and creators and managers of the “Why Not Synchro?” Facebook account said, “We think that synchro is a difficult sport and the performances are really wonderful. The teams have been improving in the past few years. Now, more than ever, we can feel the emotions.”
The girls declined to give their full names as they believe it is not important who they are, the cause that they support is what is more important.
They said that they started the Facebook page after they had come back from a competition, “We wanted the world to see synchro as a sport that can be in the Olympics because it’s a beautiful sport. We had a great team that year and some of our friends had the potential to be on a senior team. We all shared the dream to be one day at the Olympics.”
But this is still not enough…
At the last world championships 24 teams from around the world were represented and many countries are working to build synchro into their repertoire in hopes that one day it might be put in the Olympics, said U.S. Figure Skating Synchronized Skating Coordinator Kyleigh Gaff.
When we went to Helsinki this year for worlds there was a team from China, the Ice Pearls, that formed a team and it was made up of speed skaters, some pairs skaters and a girl that has only been skating for two years and they showed the world what they could do. It wasn’t the best but it was something to start with.
Synchro has become a sport for all different types of skaters of all different levels and backgrounds.
If synchro is put into the Olympics, “Everybody’s going to want to be a part of the team. I mean, we’ve seen it to this point with how much it’s boomed. This discipline is the one with the highest number of members,” Gaff said.
“A lot of times skaters come in to become a synchro skaters and they come into it because they don’t really want to skate on the ice alone but they want to still compete and doing this helps them to kind of come out of their shell with 15 other people on the ice with them,” she added.
“I think people on the Olympic committee don’t believe it will get views or watched and it will go underrated but they are spending so much more money to bring in teams so it just needs that extra little pizzazz,” said Murray.
Unfortunately, synchronized skating lacks sponsorship for many teams, even those at the top of their countries and is rarely shown on television.
“The more exposure the discipline has the better for the Olympic committee to see that and it’s not always shot in the best light and sometimes photographers and videographers don’t really know how to do that because everybody just gets confused with where to look,” Gaff said.
For Murray, it all comes down to money, because all the glitz and glam, the beautiful costumes, and the fine leather skates come at a cost.
“I think it comes down to instead of adding a new sport that has one on a team you are then needing to add 20 other people onto the team of each country that has synchronized skating and their coaches so that’s more money,” Murray said.
“It’s just because of the sheer number of more people that would be in the Olympic village,” Gaff said.
Although synchro would cause the Olympic village to have to grow, it would be growing to support more women.
The Olympic committee has been working to incorporate more diversity in athletes by including more women and people of different races and sexualities. Although synchro is a co-ed sport it is predominantly women.
“It will bring more gender equality, it will bring more women to the forefront and it will show that men and women can compete together,” Gaff said.
Synchro just needs something extra that will set it apart from the other disciplines of skating, something that will make people want to watch.
“I feel like they’ve started to do it, taking out the freestyle part and adding in the weird, different intersections,” Murray said.
Freestyle elements are those such as spins and jumps. These are the elements that are most commonly associated with figure skating. Removing these elements makes synchro that much more distinct.
“With the creative lifts that senior teams had to do we saw a lot of teams doing a lot of athletic things as well as the creative side of things,” Gaff said.
“The teams try to find new elements each year to impress the judges,” Ariane, Kimberly and Melody said.
U.S. figure skating is working to educate their team on the benefits of synchro.
“We’re trying to market it in a way through our social platforms and helping with whatever the ISU needs from us,” Gaff said.
But in the meanwhile, synchro skaters, at least in the U.S., have the excitement of synchronized skating worlds coming to Lake Placid, New York next year.
U.S. Figure Skating is working to build the program by taking some helpful pointers from the 2019 world championships which were held in Helsinki, Finland.
“We’ll go into next year with a brighter light and we’ll kind of market it towards the younger generation and the people that don’t really notice it as much,” said Gaff.
Like many others, Murray was extremely excited to hear that the World Championships would be coming so close to her home.
“I called my mom the first day that it got released and said, ‘Hi…worlds…Lake Placid…Christmas present?’” Murray said.