If you only pay attention to figure skating once every four years, you’re missing out on one of the most passionately-practiced sporting events in the world. To get you up to speed, we’ve gathered some fast facts about this perfect pairing of art and athleticism.
1. IT’S THE OLDEST WINTER GAME.
Figure skating debuted during the London Olympic Games in 1908, pre-dating the beginning of the formal winter games by 16 years.
2. SKATES USED TO BE MADE OF ANIMAL BONES.
Before people began to develop artistic expression through skates, they used them as a practical form of transportation. Thousands of years ago, residents in Finland strapped animal bones to their feet to glide across frozen lakes rather than walk around them. Scientists believe they might have also used wooden poles to propel themselves forward. Metal blades didn’t arrive until the 13th century.
3. A CLEVER INVENTION MADE FIGURE SKATING POSSIBLE.
Prior to E.V. Bushnell inventing a secure clip for metal skates, it wasn’t possible to perform intricate maneuvers on blades—they’d simply fall off, or injure the wearer. But when Bushnell unveiled skates that could be clipped to the foot in 1848, more elaborate moves became possible.
4. ICE DANCING GREW OUT OF THE WALTZ.
Modern figure skating can involve “ice dancing,” an activity dating back to a harsh London winter in 1862. But the first concrete example may have come in the 1880s, when the Vienna Skating Club began to mimic the Waltz on ice during their gatherings. Ice dancing wasn’t recognized in the Winter Games until 1976.
5. THE FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS WERE GENDER-MIXED.
Skating competitions haven’t always been broken up by gender. During a St. Petersburg, Russia event in 1896, there was one division and only men were allowed to compete. When the world championships were held in London in 1902, a woman named Madge Syers entered and took second behind male winner Ulrich Salchow. A separate division for women was instituted three years later.
6. A PLANE CRASH WIPED OUT THE ENTIRE U.S. TEAM.
The best American skaters were en route to a competition in Prague in 1961 when their plane crashed, killing everyone on board. Out of respect for those who were lost, the competition was canceled. It would be several years before the U.S. could rebound from the tragedy and once again become a presence on the international scene.
7. THE BLADE IS SERRATED IN FRONT.
Figure skaters can pivot and stop short thanks to a barely-visible serrated edge on the tip of their blades. Also known as a “toe pick,” it grabs the ice and helps skaters prepare for jumps.
8. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR THEM DURING A LANDING.
Male skaters weighing 150 pounds or more can land on the ice following a jump with extraordinary force: more than 1000 lbs. of pressure.
9. THERE ARE MOVES MALE SKATERS CAN’T DO.
The “layback spin” that requires skaters to lean back with their shoulders and head puts considerable pressure on the spinal column and demands a great deal of flexibility. It’s thought that female skaters typically have more success doing the maneuver than men.
10. THEY SPIN AT 300RPM.
Have you wondered how skaters can endure the seemingly-impossible speed reached when they execute a spinning jump? So do we: At more than 300 revolutions per minute (RPM), figure skaters experience as much RPM as astronauts in centrifuge training.
11. VOCALS ARE BANNED DURING ROUTINES.
You may not have noticed, but at many top level competitions, skaters who take to the ice with musical accompaniment have to abide by a strict rule: None of the music can include vocals.
12. THE WRONG COSTUME CAN COST THEM POINTS.
In many skating competitions, judges can deduct a point if they consider a skater’s costume to be overly garish or provocative. While that sounds dangerously subjective, the point is deducted only if multiple judges agree that the outfit is in poor taste.
13. THEY CAN’T USE PROPS.
Skaters performing routines are expected to succeed or fail based on their individuality and skill-set: They can’t use props. The only time you’ll see a figure skater accessorizing is during exhibitions, like the one held during 1972 when a silver medalist appeared with a plastic umbrella.
14. THEY USE CRASH PADS.
Inexperienced figure skaters are best served adding padding to their bodies to cushion against hard falls on the ice. While helmets are not uncommon, particularly for younger skaters, many also wear crash pads that are essentially cushioning for the buttocks in the event of a rear landing.
15. THE U.S. MEDALS EVERY TIME.
Despite stiff competition from perennial rival Russia, the United States has been well-represented in figure skating competition during the Winter Games. The country has won at least one medal during every event dating back to 1948—that’s 18 consecutive competitions.