views updated May 29 2018


From its ninth-century, Northern European origins as a means for hunting and traveling on ice, skating has been explored for its leisure possibilities. By the time that iron skates—or schaats as their sixteenth-century Dutch inventors called them—had replaced their wooden or bone predecessors, their transformation to recreational usage was well under way. This can be seen in some of Pieter Brueghel's sixteenth-century paintings of peasants skating on the canals of Belgium and the Netherlands, activities that were made famous in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales of Denmark. Not so long after iron blades were invented, skates that could snap on to the sole and heel of boots were being manufactured by the Acme Skate Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These skates were electroplated in nickel or gold for the wealthy to carry around in expensive carrying cases.

It may be the numerous variations on ice skating that explains its growing popularity today. There is short and long-track speedskating, barrel jumping, pairs, and figure skating. Originally a sport for the Dutch common-folk, speedskating was initially made popular in the Winter Olympics as a sport that involved packs of skaters racing in laps over different distances on a track. The current objective of speedskating is to get around an oval track as quickly as possible (although some of speedskating's most popular races are marathons set on the canals of the Netherlands). Barrel jumping, a common variation of speedskating, was especially popular around the turn of the twentieth century. Skaters, set side-by-side on the ice, would skate as fast as they could, and try to jump over as many barrels as possible. Without a doubt however, it is figure skating, and specifically Sonja Henie's white skates and short skirts in the Olympics of 1928, 1932, and 1936, that commanded the world's attention. Henie's jumps and spins so captured the public imagination that ice skating began to evoke images of talented individuals, alone or in pairs, performing highly technical actions in nearly perfect union with music and all towards the goal of "a clean skate."

Sonya Henie was the most successful figure skater ever, maintaining a public skating career for 46 years. Born in Oslo, Norway, on April 8, 1912, she began skating when she was six years old. At the age of 11 she competed in the Olympics. In 1927 she won the world amateur championship for women, holding that title for 10 consecutive years. She won three gold medals in the Winter Olympics of 1928, 1932, and 1936. Trained in ballet, Henie incorporated some of its maneuvers into female figure skating; she was largely responsible for converting a predictable series of colorless exercises into a spectacular and popular exhibition. After having caught the attention of Americans at the 1930 World Championships in New York, she turned professional after her Olympic triumph in 1936, and toured Europe and the Americas as the star of the Hollywood Ice Revue, and for a time (1951-52) she acted as producer of her ice shows. In 1936 she signed with Twentieth Century Fox and starred in 11 popular films including One in a Million (1936/37), Thin Ice (1937), and Wintertime (1943). From 1937 to 1945 she was one of the leading box-office attractions in the motion-picture industry and died in 1969 with a fortune estimated at $47 million dollars.

Since Henie's time, her status as celebrity has been replicated by other female figure skaters. Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt, and Kristi Yamaguchi have loomed larger than male figure skaters in the public imagination, paying for this privilege by almost always being cast, as Feuer explains in the anthology Women on Ice, as the "wounded bird, a child, or a fairy tale princess." This embodiment of grace has traditionally belied the athleticism necessary to perform the necessary jumps, loops, and spirals that mark elite amateur and professional figure skating careers. The move away from, and reinterpretations of, vestigial images of femaleness and maleness marked figure skating's skyrocketing popularity in the 1990s. The new figure skating was a media-conscious, entertainment-driven form that thrived in the age of tabloid TV. Although part of the tabloidization of skating is attributable to the death of compulsory figures and endless speculation about who Katarina Witt was dating, the current connection between skating and the tabloids owes much of its origin to the disgraceful but unforgettable Tonya/Nancy scrum.

The rivalry between "trailer trash" Tonya Harding and "ice princess" Nancy Kerrigan, the subsequent scandal in which Harding was found complicit in her husband's assault on Kerrigan at the 1994 US National Championships, and the controversial representation of the two women on the U.S. women's team at the 1994 Lillihammer Winter Olympics is integral in the current popularity of figure skating. Why? Almost 50 percent of U.S. homes with television sets were tuned into the primetime telecasts of the women's figure skating competition, making it the sixth most popular television program ever.

From that point, figure skating increased its allure. Figure skating in the 1990s became a form of public spectacle, the extension of skating beyond competitions like the Olympics to a myriad of touring ice shows and pseudo-competitions that appeared regularly on prime time television. The change was most telling in men's skating, where competitors were acclaimed by fans for their masculine rather than artistic qualities—thus world champion Elvis Stojko performed as a motocross bike-driving, karate-fighting, arm-pumping, quadruple toe loop-jumping super male. More telling were the young members of the audience who hooted and hollered like fraternity brothers at a strip bar as Philippe Candeloro took off his shirt amid squeals of pleasure.

Skating's new popularity was revealed in very full arenas in cities where double axles are more traditionally associated with truckers, not skaters. It was revealed on TV, where the airwaves featured Fox Television's Rock 'n' Roll Skating Championship, and six professional championships on 9 Sundays on CBS alone. There were also television specials hosted by individual skaters (Kurt Browning's You Must Remember This was considered the best). Finally, rock and roll-like touring such as Campbell Soups' Tour of World Figure Skating Champions (televised by CBS as Artistry on Ice) ensured complete saturation. Or did it?

In the late 1990s, almost 30 million Americans ice skated. The United States Figure Skating Association membership jumped 25 percent since 1994. It is speculated that 35 percent of the audience for figure skating may be male. According to some marketers, figure skating ranks just behind the NFL in U.S. popularity. In other words, figure skating may have merely completed its compulsory and long programs while its more exciting and even more popular short program awaits.

—Robert VanWynsberghe

Further Reading:

Baughman, Cynthia, editor. Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle. New York, Routledge, 1995.

Milton, Steve, with photographs by Barbara McCutcheon. Skate: 100 Years of Figure Skating. Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1996.

Shivers, Jay S., and Lee J. deLisle. The Story of Leisure: Context, Concepts, and Current Controversy. Windsor, Human Kinetics, 1997.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Skating a fly over the surface can attract fish from a larger area. Making the fly hop, skip, and skitter are desirable motions. Adult caddisflies and damselflies routinely skate the surface; likewise, threatened baitfish skip the surface in an effort to avoid capture by predators. Skating is a natural motion for some aquatic foods.

A skating retrieve is done by using both the rod and line hands in a coordinated effort. The line hand retrieves long fast strips of line while the rod hand pulses the rod in a fast up-and-down motion. This causes the fly to skip along the surface. The rods vibrations cause tantalizing pulsations. The stripping moves the fly along the surface. This pulsating action can be irresistible to fish; consequently, strikes can be so savage that all you need to set the hook is to make solid contact. Because of these violent strikes, heavy tippets are preferred over fine ones.

Fly pattern choices should be exceptionally high floating ones tied with plenty of hollow deer or elk hair. Bullet head fly designs amplify the pulses.


views updated Jun 11 2018