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Summary Article: ice skating
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

gliding along an ice surface on keellike runners known as ice skates.

Skating as a Sport

Skating, besides being an important form of winter recreation and the essential skill in the game of ice hockey (see hockey, ice) has developed into three different sports—speed skating, figure skating, and ice dancing. All three are now features of the Winter Olympic games.

Speed Skating

In speed-skating events, racers may reach speeds as high as 30 mi (48 km) per hr. The Olympic races are around oval tracks (traditionally 400 meters in length) at distances of 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters for men and 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meters for women. There is also a pursuit race for teams of three skaters, over a distance of 8 laps for men and 6 laps for women. Short-track skating features skaters in massed starts circling a small indoor oval. In the Olympics men compete in 500-, 1,000-, and 1,500-meter events, with a 5,000-meters relay; the women's races are at similar distances except for the relay (3,000 meters).

Figure Skating

Jackson Haines, an American, revolutionized figure skating in the 1860s, skating to music, bringing balletic movements to ice, and creating new ones. One of the most beautiful and graceful events in all sport, international figure skating requires skaters to perform a short program that includes mandatory jumps and skills, and then a longer program of free selection, both set to music. Judging is subjective and often controversial. Skaters also compete in mixed pairs, seeking through the intricate synchronization of moves and the performance of lifts and jumps to impress the scoring judges. Team skating competitions combine men's, women's, and figure skating and ice dancing pairs' programs.

Olympic gold medalist Sonja Henie did much to bring skating to wide public notice in the United States, and after she turned (1936) professional, the ice carnival became a popular American amusement. Since then traveling ice shows have continued to attract former Olympic skaters who have, since the 1970s, also competed in a series of professional competitions. In recent years, Americans have increasingly taken up competitive figure skating in the hope of repeating the successes of Olympic champions such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, and Sarah Hughes.


The earliest skates (c.9th cent.), made of bone, were found in Sweden. Wooden skates with iron facings appeared in the 14th cent. Skates made entirely of iron were introduced in the 17th cent. Steel skates, with straps and clamps to fasten them to the shoes, were sold in the 1850s, and later came the skate permanently attached to the shoe. Skating has long been a means of travel in countries with long, cold winters, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and especially Holland. There are references to skating in English books as early as the 12th cent. By the 18th cent. skating was not only a means of travel but also a well-established sport. European colonists introduced it early into America and Canada.

  • See Petkevich, J. M. , The Skater's Handbook (1984).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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