The crowd was loving every second, but what happened didn’t surprise anyone. After all, they were on home ice. But the cheerful crowd’s excitement only added to the pressure. It was already a tight competition. Skaters had performed their immaculate routines which they’d practiced so many times. Suddenly, they were done. It was all over, and their exhaustion and heavy breathing was the only proof it had happened. But they still needed to find out if they had failed or if they’d make history.
The skating world hadn’t seen such a tight competition in ages. And that’s a major compliment given that there had been tons of competitions in the history of ice skating. Unbeknownst to most, the sport has been around since the 17th century. The International Skating Union was founded in 1892, and it’s the oldest governing international winter sport federation. Given the fact that ice skating has been a part of our history for thousands of years, it’s not hard to imagine that many forms of ice skating have developed across the years.
For most folks, figure skating’s got some infamous rivalries that never left their collective memories: Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, and Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue. But synchronized skating isn’t really as massive as figure skating. The sport isn’t even considered an Olympic sport, but boy does it take some major skills. Skaters form a unit and perform heart-wrenching maneuvers at super high speeds in flawless synchronized perfection. While it may not be considered an Olympic sport, it does leave very little room for error.
In the late 20th century, synchronized skating finally started being on everyone’s radar. So in the year 2000, the International Skating Union finally launched the annual ISU World Synchronized Skating championships. And only high skilled skaters from all over the world were able to compete. It’s been 18 years now, and only two teams have been dominating the grounds: Sweden and Finland. But in 2015, they finally got their chance to compete fiercely against each other, and it’d go down in history as the closest competition people has ever seen.
The 2015 championships took place in Hamilton, Canada, so everyone was rooting for their home teams. NEXXICE was the top team, and they’d previously gotten the gold medal in 2009, but ever since then, they hadn’t been able to score again. Les Supremes, which was their secondary team, only made it to 3rd place. But their competitor had been a lot luckier. Finland’s Marigold IceUnity were the favorites this year and they had won the year prior. Still, the Canadians buckled down and gave it their best. Playing on home turf gave them extra confidence.
Shelley Barnett, NEXXICE’s head coach, and Anne Schelter, the choreographer for the team, had their own strategy to bring their team to victory: they were planning on feeding off of the crowd’s energy. “A couple of weeks ago we had a practice here and piped in crowd noise for portions of it,” Barnett commented. “And we noticed that they picked up and were skating better in those sections.” But would loud cheering and a hopeful crowd be enough to motivate them to win?
Phase one was the “Short Program,” a category that was designed to shown skater’s incredible technical abilities. First, the teams that ranked low went in first, along with their star skaters, (which included Sweden, Finland, and Canada). They showed what they were made of and performed close to the end of phase one. NEXXICE’s skaters were all dressed in black attire, and they danced to a beautifully choreographed country-themed routine to the song “MUD” by The Road Hammers. And now, they were about to be scored.
Finally, they unveiled their scores. NEXXICE got 71.06 out of 100, so far, it was the highest score. They were completely overjoyed, but they still had to wait until Russia, Sweden, and Finland did their performances. Sweden’s score was 69.94, and coming in really close was Russia, with a 66.25 score. Finland came in super close to the Canadians with a 70.39 point score. The point difference between both teams was only 0.67. At last, all four teams made their way to the final phase with super tight scores. Anyone could be crowned the winner at this point.
7,600 people at FirstOntario Centre witnessed the biggest synchronized event in the United States of America, even to this day. The crowd held on tight to their sits as they were about to watch skillful skaters show off both their artistic and technical skills on the Free Skate Program. NEXXICE was about to perform first, and they really outshined everybody else with their incredible choreography. They danced to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” brilliantly. They got a monumental score of 143.67 out of 200. Not too shabby, but now, it was their opponent’s turn.
Marigold IceUnity performed right after NEXXICE, and they weren’t about to let the other team steal their thunder. Everyone’s jaws dropped on the floor when their flawless performance scored them a 143.67, the very same score obtained by the Canadians. Still, due to the score they got at the Short Program, NEXXICE’s was winning so far. Unless, the remaining team outshined them all.
Finally, Sweden’s Team Surprise was up next, and since they’d won so many championships, it was going to be tough beating them on the ice skating rink. Plus, their Short Program score resulted in just 1.12 points of difference with NEXXICE. Finally, the team’s performance was over and everybody was sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for the score. Then, it came in: 132.03! This meant they were below everyone else, Canada, Russia, and Finland. NEXXICE had won the championship, but they weren’t alone in their celebration. Oh no!
Team Paradise, from Russia, had managed to land in fifth place in the Short Program, and then, they scored an impressive 137.23 when they competed in Free Skate. Suddenly, Sweden’s score announcement made the Canadians cheer with excitement, until they realized the Russians were crying happy tears too. They’d finally won bronze, which was Russia’s first ever medal in the entire history of the World Championship. But the crowd out-cheered everybody else, screaming at the top of their lungs.
Realizing that their team had won made the audience scream with joy. The team was smiling from ear to ear. Coach Barnett said, “It is an absolute thrill to win in Canada.” She continued, “To have the advantage of home support and to feel it right through the whole week. It was gratifying to reward that support with a win.” The secondary team had tons of reasons to celebrate as well.
Les Supremes got a score of 199.77, which is the highest they’d obtained on an international championship, so they were ecstatic too. This put them in sixth place, and their delightful burlesque-themed number was a total hit with the crowd. “It’s hard to describe in words,” said Marilyn Langlois, the head coach. “I think they had a blast out there and shared it with the audience.” Given how exhilarating the 2015 competition was for everyone involved, we can only imagine how thrilling the next synchronized skating competitions will be.
But since synchronized skating isn’t considered an Olympic sport just yet, it is not due to lack of trying. As a matter of fact, the International Olympic Committee rejected the ISU’s request to finally recognize and include synchronized skating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Maybe they’re not too thrilled about accommodating all the teams, which obviously increases the cost of these events, but synchronized skating is still getting bigger and bigger. Who knows? Maybe they’ll finally get their chance to compete officially at the 2022 Games in Beijing!