Although it’s generally recognized that Synchronized Skating got its start in the United States, it wasn’t long before Canada hopped on board too. Now the sport is promoted around the world with 20 countries represented at this year’s ISU World Championships hosted by Canada this month in Hamilton, Ontario.
Making history has always been a significant part of the sport’s motivation. And now, after more than 20 years of work by the ISU Synchronized Skating Technical Committees (SySTC) and participants in the sport, there’s a glow around Synchro (SyS) that is definitely of Olympic proportion.
Canada’s Cathy Dalton, an internationally acclaimed Synchro coach and expert, has been involved in the sport from its beginning.
“Being in the Olympic Games was a dream at first,” admits Cathy, “but with all the chairmen of the SyS Technical Committee working tirelessly towards this Olympic goal, Marie Lundmark (Finland), Leon Lurje (Sweden), Uli Linder (Switzerland) and Chris Buchanan (Great Britain), we all became huge believers that Synchro had a place in the Olympic Games.”
Finland’s Marie Lundmark is the current Chair of the SySTC. “I was on the SySTC from the beginning in 1994 when our first goal was to build the sport to hold the Synchronized Skating World Championships which we did in 2000 in Minneapolis. Of course, with that success, it opened the door to talk about the possibility of Synchro becoming an Olympic discipline.”
In the Committee’s initial 4-year plan, a strategy was developed that would prepare the sport for its ultimate event. One step along that path to the Olympics was to have SyS included in the FISU Winter Universiade, a milestone accomplished in 2007. As the sport‘s popularity surged around the world, work continued in collaboration with the ISU to establish standards, requirements, ages of skaters, composition for SyS teams, event structure … all the details that would help the sport align with other Olympic events.
There was much work to do on and off the ice. Behind the scenes and deep into the synchro community, the prime directive was to build credibility for the discipline by promoting quality skating skills.
As a coach, Cathy was front-line. “Decisions were made that would improve the athleticism of the skaters, improve their skating quality, increase the difficulty of the elements and also further coaching development.”
Then in April 2011, another major step was taken.
“There was a Synchronized Skating Working Group meeting,” reflects Marie, “where together with the Council figure skating members, the SySTC, Peter Krick, Chair Sports Directorate and Krisztina Regöczy, Figure Skating Sports Director, we discussed making a formal application to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by creating a proposal outlining the logistics of having SyS teams in the Games.“
It took three years of painstaking work when finally at the 2014 ISU Congress in Dublin, Ireland, the proposal was presented to the ISU and accepted by Congress. The next step undertaken by the ISU was to send an application to the IOC to have SyS recognized as an Olympic discipline with the goal to have it included in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
In July of 2014, in response, the ISU received an official acknowledgement from the IOC … with an accompanying application requesting detailed information about SyS, including questions about things like participant and event information, team composition, number of athletes, ticket sales, TV ratings and social media statistics.
Cathy was part of the application team. “It was hard work to find accurate statistics … but we did it! A brochure was developed for the IOC that summarized SyS and included wonderful photos, facts and videos.”
But the IOC’s investigation into SyS didn’t stop there.
In the summer of 2014, the IOC sent a team of observers to a top-notch SyS event, the French Cup, to report and make recommendations on the sport’s activities, the noisy and enthusiastic environment and the public’s response.
“The French Cup was a wonderful event for them to witness,” says Cathy. “The three people from the IOC were very astute and observant. They seemed to enjoy the event and liked many of the different teams and their routines. They took photos and video of the competition that would hopefully accompany their report to the IOC … and they certainly saw how the team sport of figure skating could bring a fresh new dynamic and new fans to the Olympic movement.”
Marie is optimistic that SyS fits beautifully into the Olympic model.
“The growth in popularity of this discipline among younger age groups with fans following their favorite teams has fuelled the rapid rise in popularity and participation among young people in the ISU Member federations spread over all five Continents. This sport showcases fast and dynamic, physically and technically demanding programs that have a very different appearance from the difficult performances shown in skating’s traditional disciplines.”
From the business side of the equation, Marie is quick to add, “Given the strong youth appeal of this sport and the strong social media following, we can see a tremendous upside in the development of branded content that has a strong base for sponsorship and for generating increased fan support.”
“The sport is ready!” boasts Cathy. “Many of the organizational details have been worked out for an Olympic event: schedule, location, doping, mix zone, accommodation and transportation. The teams are ready to go!”
For Marie Lundmark and many other SyS leaders and supporters, to receive IOC approval would be the final dramatic step in the sport’s evolution. “I think that from the beginning all who have been involved in Synchronized Skating (skaters, coaches, officials, and parents) have contributed to the development of this beautiful sport. We hope that our work and dreams will be appreciated.”
The IOC’s decision is pending.