The 2017 World Synchronized Skating Championships were the 18th world championship event for the sport of synchronized skating. I have been fortunate to find a way to attend each of the championships that have been held in North America (USA or Canada), as well as a few in Europe. For 2017 I attended the event in Colorado Springs with two skating friends; we’d skated together on an adult synchro team a number of years ago and remain close friends. It was a much-anticipated road trip.
At the world championship level each team has 16 skaters. Teams can be coed but are typically all-female. Out of 24 teams there were fewer than a dozen men. Participating countries send one team, except that the five countries that placed the highest at the previous world championship can send two teams. For 2017 the countries with two teams were, in alphabetical order, Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
Outside the competition arena in Colorado Springs there is a model of a Zamboni ice surfacer. This was a popular place for attendees to pose for pictures – and imagine what it might be like to drive a Zamboni.
Colorado Springs is in a stunning setting just east of the Rocky Mountains. This was the view from our motel room less than a mile from the arena. Sure, the nearby businesses were a reminder that we were in town, but the mountains were not far away.
From the entrance area of the arena there was a spectacular view across the parking lot of Pikes Peak. With a peak elevation of 14,115 feet it is the highest peak in the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, and it is just 12 miles from downtown Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs is the home of the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, a must-see museum for figure skating aficionados. We visited the museum our first morning, at least my third visit to the museum. The exhibits are updated every year as new national and/or world champions are crowned.
We stopped by the arena near the end of the official practice sessions and watched the last few teams practice. One of the USA teams was the Haydenettes, who have been national champions over 20 times – obviously not with the same individual skaters. They have a nice tradition that they carry out at the end of their practice session. Because there is a small audience for the practices, they do a bow at the end of their session, just before leaving the ice. And they bow in a perfect H formation.
The competition began that evening. Before the opening ceremony the jumbotron displayed the event logo and showed movie clips to get the crowd warmed up.
In the opening ceremony skaters from the local figure skating club carried flags for each of the participating nations. I was once fortunate to carry a national flag in the opening ceremony of an international event and, especially for a skater who is never going to be a competitor in the event, it is a source of great excitement.
As with the other figure skating disciplines (ladies, men, pairs, and dance) there are two programs in the competition. The first program is the short program, and it typically contains 6 required elements. These elements are selected each year by the International Skating Union (ISU) and publicized to teams worldwide.
The sequence in which the teams skate has been determined by a so-called draw ceremony the previous evening, and printed sheets with the skating order are available in the lobby for audience members. Some countries always have a large contingent in the audience, no matter where the event is held, and of course there are always many attendees from the host country. When the event is held in the United States there is always a sizeable Canadian crowd, and vice versa. Especially when one of the home teams makes its entrance the noise is deafening – and the excitement is palpable.
We were sitting directly opposite the always large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters for the Finnish teams, nearly filling an entire section (plus another one elsewhere in the arena). They always come equipped with flags, horns, and special touches like the shirts with letters to spell a message, so everyone needs to sit in the correct sequence in the seats.
After their skate, each team gathers in the kiss & cry area for an official photo. From our seats we had a good view of the kiss & cry. This is one of the Finnish teams, Marigold Ice Unity, after their short program to a bullfight-themed medley. The picture is a bit grainy because I was at least 100 feet away.
The long program, or free skate, has a wider variety of elements. When I skated synchro there were five basic elements, and a well-rounded program would include all of them. Today there are thirteen identified types of element, and again a well-rounded program includes a variety of these elements.
The judging system is a point-based system, with technical and so-called component (or artistic) scores. The technical score includes the base points assigned by the ISU, with additions for greater difficulty and with additions and subtractions for how well it was executed. The component score includes an assessment of skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, and interpretation. A deduction is applied for falls, costume or time violations, etc. This judging system is similar to the other figure skating disciplines.
A relatively new type of element for synchronized skating is the pair element, in which pairs of skaters perform the element. Two popular pair elements are pair spins and pair pivots, or death spirals. Here is one pair performing what I call a death spiral, since it resembles the death spiral that is a highlight of a pairs program.
I took a short video clip of one team doing death spirals and clipped out a frame from the video. In a well-executed element all the pairs rotate in a synchronized manner – and in addition their locations on the ice make an intentional formation. This is extremely difficult to do! – but it is quite impressive when done well, as here.
Perhaps the most spectacular element is the group lift. Usually three skaters lift a fourth. When this element was first introduced the positions of the skater in the air were fairly basic, but now the positions are more and more difficult and daring. Here is a lift performed by Team Hungary. The skater in the air is supported by her legs and hands only. She needs a lot of core body strength to hold the position and make it look pleasing. And the lifters need to be comfortable holding up roughly 1/3 of their body weight while skating; the lifts typically cover quite a bit of distance on the ice.
This year there was a new variation in the group lifts performed by a few teams, here demonstrated by Team Japan. After three skaters help the fourth mount the lift, one of the “holders” skates away for several seconds. In some cases this skater returned to assist with the dismount and in other cases not. Now imagine holding up half your body weight! It is also notable that the four group lifts are both rotating and moving across the ice. Ideally the motion and rotation of the four groups are synchronized. In this photo the synchronization is virtually perfect. Spectacular!
Immediately after the long program there is a medal ceremony. For 2017 the gold medal was won by Team Russia (Team Paradise) for the second consecutive year. The silver medal was won by Team Finland (Marigold Ice Unity), and the difference between gold and silver was just 0.12 point: very close indeed. The bronze medal was won by Team Canada (Nexxice), and Team USA (Haydenettes) came in fourth. This picture is an overview of the medal ceremony. For some reason I am always amused by the cluster of official photographers on the small mat in front of the skaters. The row of individuals at the left of Team Finland includes Jason Brown, Max Aaron, and Joshua Farris, all of whom train locally and are nationally ranked skaters; they were about to present each skater with the placement medal. I expect it was a bit of a thrill both for the guys and for the team members to participate in this ceremony.
The many innovative programs made for an exciting world championship event. Next year Synchro Worlds will be in Stockholm, Sweden. I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to be able to attend?