The 2015 World Synchronized Skating Championships were held in Hamilton, Ontario, and I was fortunate to be able to attend this exciting event as a spectator. I skated on an adult synchro team for a number of years, and our team even qualified for Nationals a couple of times. Our goals were modest: to finish better than last place. The world championships are in a completely different category, and the level of skating skills displayed is – in my opinion – truly worthy of inclusion in the Winter Olympics (see below).
Similar to the other figure skating disciplines, the event includes a short program and a long program. Each phase has several required elements, and entrants are judged on technical aspects and so-called program components. The scores for the two programs are added together to determine final placements.
Each participating country can send one team to Worlds; I’m not sure what the qualifications are, other than to be a senior-level team (the highest of several levels) with 16 skaters. The five countries with the highest placing teams at the previous Worlds can send two teams. In recent years, these countries have consistently been Finland, Sweden, Canada, USA, and Russia. A team consists of 16 skaters, with a few alternates permitted. This year there were 25 teams in all, representing 20 countries. As far as I know, this was the largest participation in the 16-year history of the official World Championship. Flags for all participating countries were displayed over one end of the ice.
After arriving in Hamilton I made my way to the FirstOntario Centre, the arena venue, to pick up my tickets. Then I went inside to watch some of the official practices for the short program, the first phase of the competition. Each team has a 10-minute practice session on the event ice. Since time is so limited, the entire practice is very carefully choreographed. At the end of the session, when the announcer has announced that there is 1 minute remaining, some of the teams do a formal bow, since there are always some spectators. Team USA1, the Haydenettes, formed the letter H for their bow.
Following Team USA1 was Team Canada 1. Most of the spectators, not surprisingly, were Canadians, including one especially young fan.
My seat was above and behind the judges’ table, which was an ideal location. I was high enough in the stands to be able to see formations, and I had a good view of the kiss-and-cry area, where teams go after skating their programs to await their scores. This picture shows Team Japan following their short program skate. They are posing for their official photo (note the photographer at the lower left). I thought their dresses were especially soft and pretty. If you count heads, you will note that they had 4 alternates who waited at the boards while 16 skaters skated the program. Occasionally, if a skater cannot complete the program – usually due to an injury during the program – an alternate takes the skater’s place for the remainder of the program.
Several of the teams have sizable and visible groups of fans. Team Mexico is one of my favorites. This was their third trip to Worlds, and the enthusiasm was great to see.
One of the other entries was Team Spain. After they skated their short program, the announcer mentioned that Javier Fernandez, recently crowned Men’s World Champion, was in attendance, and he was shown on the jumbo-tron. I bet that was exciting for the team members!
After each group of 5 teams skated their programs, the ice was re-surfaced. During each such break, various skating-related videos were shown, along with other videos to keep the audience motivated and entertained. This “I love synchro” image was displayed frequently on the jumbo-tron.
For the short program teams are roughly seeded into several groups, with a random draw within each group. The groups are sequenced roughly from expected lower to expected higher placements. For the long program the groups of 5 teams (for each ice cut) are determined by the short program placements, with another random draw for skate order. Again, the groups go from lower to higher expected placement. There are several reasons for this sequencing, but I think one reason is that teams of similar ability skate roughly in sequence, making judging more consistent.
One of the more entertaining long programs from the first two groups (10 teams) was that of Team Czech Republic. The music began with “I Will Follow Him,” and continued with other selections from the movie Sister Act. The costumes fit perfectly with the program theme.
During one of the ice cuts, a group of fans went up and down several aisles carrying a banner with #whynotsynchro2018, a reference to a growing movement in the synchronized skating community to advocate for introducing synchronized skating as an Olympic sport for the next Winter Games.
As mentioned before, two teams represented the USA, with Team USA 2 from Miami University. Here is the ending pose for their Elvis Presley themed long program.
Team USA 1, the Haydenettes, unfortunately had a fall during the long program. After exiting the ice, the team gathered in the kiss and cry area for some supporting words from their coach before their score was announced.
While a team waits in the kiss and cry area for scores, the next team takes the ice for a very brief warmup. When one of the Canadian teams was next to skate, the Canadians in the audience started cheering very loudly, waving flags, banners, pom poms, etc. Almost the entire side of the arena opposite my seat was filled with Canadian fans going nuts for their teams.
Especially in the long program teams try to introduce something creative. Team Sweden 2, Boomerang, had an interesting twist with their dresses during their A Day in the Dance Studio program. They started in white dresses and black tights, a somewhat unusual look. Then, at a music change part way through the program, the dresses suddenly – somehow – came apart and were stowed underneath the skirts, transforming virtually instantly into black dresses.
One of the most spectacular and exciting elements of the long program is the group lifts. Typically the lift involves 3 skaters lifting a fourth to an overhead position. Here Team Canada 1, Nexxice, performs their lift. The positions of the lifted skater are becoming more elaborate – and risky. The group typically rotates and travels during the lift. Teamwork and cooperation are essential!
Here is an overview view of the group lift performed by Team Finland 1, Marigold Ice Unity. Note that the four groups are expected to rotate and travel in a synchronized manner and are scored accordingly.
Elsewhere in the Team Finland 1 program, during a so-called creative element, five or six skaters performed a group lift in which three skaters lifted a fourth overhead (as usual) but then one or two of the lifting skaters did an exchange of position like a pass-off maneuver.
Almost impossibly, the long program scores for Team Canada 1 and Team Finland 1 were identical (143.67). Therefore the final placement was determined by the short program scores, with Team Canada 1 winning by 0.67 point. As it turns out, Team Canada 1 was like the home team, since they train at a rink only about 5 miles away from the competition arena. The bronze medal was earned by Team Russia 1, their first world medal in synchronized skating. Here the teams are lined up during the medal ceremony, after receiving their medals.
A special mat had been placed on the ice for the official press photographers to gather to take photos.
The ceremony concluded with raising the flags of the medal-winning teams and the playing of the Canadian national anthem.
It was an exciting experience to watch Synchro Worlds. The atmosphere was simply electric, of course especially for the Canadian teams, but very enthusiastic for all of the teams. I have managed to attend all of the Synchro Worlds events held in North America, and look forward to the next one.