The Path to the Skaters’ Waltz

Professional ice skating of today is a world away from its origins of over 4000 years ago

The feeling must indeed be fabulous. As two-time Olympian and three-time US National Champion, American figure skater, Johnny Weir, said, “ I love skating and sparkling and flying around the ice, and people clap for you. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Ice skating is a professional sport today, as much as it is a leisure activity. Professional ice skating is featured in the Olympics and focused on Championships, perhaps leading people to bet on winners, through betting software. For instance, in 1927, Sonja Henie as a 14-year old, became a world renowned figure skater, earning dazzling titles like “the Ice Queen of Norway”, “the White Swan,” and “the Nasturtium of the North.” Since then she won 10 world championships consecutively. During the same time, she won gold medals in the Winter Olympics of 1928, 1932 and 1936. Immediately afterwards, she was snapped up by Hollywood, and she was an instant box office hit.Sonja shares the glory of winning 10 championships with Swedish figure skater Karl Emil Ulrich Salchow who preceded her.

Ice skating was neither sophisticated nor graceful at the point it originated in Finland. According to Dr. Frederico Formenti, researcher at the University of Oxford and expert in human locomotion, ice skating began around 4000 years ago. Dr Formenti believes that ice skating began in the southern areas of Finland, where lakes abound. In fact, every route in the area possibly includes a lake. And if people could skate over frozen lakes, they could economize on use of their energy. In Finland, by skating over a lake rather than walking on terrain, people were able to save about 10% of their energy. In Norway, the energy saved by skating was 3% and in Sweden, Germany abd the Netherland, it was 1%. Therefore, it was the Finnish people who benefited most from skating.

Archeological and historical remains from Finland indicate that bone skates were used as far back as 2000 BC. Similar evidence was unearthed in several Central and North European countries. Most of the remains of skates was from bones of horses and cows. The Oxford researchers believe people would have used the bones of whatever animals lived in their areas. The bone skates had flat bottoms to make it easy on the ankles, but people had used a stick to push on the ice.

King James II, following his brief exile in the Netherlands in the17th century, introduced ice skating to Britain upon his return. It was a new sport for the English aristocracy, but gradually it spread among all communities. The lakes of Scotland and the canals of Netherlands were great spots for skating matches, the first of which were held in the early 19th century. Also, when the water froze in the Fens or the Fenlands, the naturally marshy coastal plain of east England,there were skating matches held there, with prizes of money, food or clothing.

The bone skates of early times gave way to wood in the 13th and 14th centuries, whilethe first iron skates were produced in 1572. However, the first known skates came into being in the 1760s, and had its wheels in one line, which was the form for the next century. It was in 1819 that French inventor M. Petitbled patented in the first roller skate which had three wheels in a row. During the next 40 years, the roller skates produced had a set of wheels in a line, varying from 2wheels to six wheels. However, the design of the skates was such, turning was quite difficult.

It was in 1863 that the first practical roller skates were designed by American inventor James Plimpton of Medford Massachusetts. He cast aside the in-line wheels and instead created two parallel pairs of wheels at the front of the skate and at the heel. These became known as the “rocking skate”, now known as the “quad,” and allowed the skater easy navigational turns and other maneuvering movements. The quad skating style was in vogue for the next 80 years.

Renowned American skater Jackson Haines, developed a two-plate, all-metal blade directly attached to a pair of boots, in 1865. This allowed Haines to engage in fancy dance moves, jumps and spins. Subsequently, he added the first toe picks to skates in the 1870s, which made possible toe-pick jumps for figure skaters. In 1914, a blade maker from Minnesota, John E. Strauss, invented the first close-toe blade with a single strip of steel. This invention ensured lighter and stronger skates.

Following these groundbreaking invention, a recreational roller-skating mania whizzed across the US and Western Europe, and skating rinks mushroomed in big cities and smaller towns alike. In Chelsea, London, the first artificial ice rink called Glaciarium was constructed withmechanical refrigeration. The Fujikyu Highland Promenade Rink in Japan, built on 3.8 acres in 1967, is the largest, man-made outdoor ice rink. On the other hand, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, is 4.8 miles long, and is equivalent to 90 Olympic-sized skating rinks. It is said to the longest maintained ice surface on a natural body of water anywhere in the world. It is categorized as an ice rink as its entire length is daily maintained by sweeping, and checking for ice thickness, with toilet and recreational facilities along its whole length.

American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was succinct in his observation, “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.”