The Dutch were arguably the earliest pioneers of skating. They began using canals to maintain communication by skating from village to village as far back as the 13th century. Skating eventually spread across the channel to England, and soon the first clubs and artificial rinks began to form. Passionate skaters included several kings of England, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon III, and German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
STEEL AND BALLET
Two Americans are responsible for the major developments in the history of the sport. In 1850, Edward Bushnell of Philadelphia revolutionized skating when he introduced steel-bladed skates allowing complex maneuvers and turns. Jackson Haines, a dance master, living in Vienna in the 1860s, added elements of ballet to give the sport its grace.
Figure skating is the oldest sport on the Olympic Winter Games program. It was contested at the 1908 London Games and again in 1920 in Antwerp. Men’s, women’s, and pairs were the three events contested until 1972. Since 1976, ice dancing has been the fourth event in the program, proving a great success.
Sonja Henie made her Olympic debut in Chamonix in 1924, aged just 11, and was so nervous she had to ask her coach what to do midway through her routines. However, she won gold in the next three Olympic Games and developed a huge legion of fans. She later moved into films, where she greatly increased the popularity of her sport.
Men and women compete in singles, pairs, and ice dancing. Singles consist of two sections: The short programme and free skating. The short programme combines eight prescribed elements, such as combinations of jumps and various evolutions, performed to the music of the skater's choice. In the free skating programme, the skaters perform an original arrangement of the various technical figures, again to the music of their choice. Also, in pairs skating, there is a short program and free skating. The couple works as one harmonious unit, giving rise to lifts of the female partner, jumps, and other highly technical maneuvers. Ice dancing, a couple of disciplines, consists of two programmes - original and free - and due to its high spectacular content it meets growing success.