Discovering synchronized ice skating, an almost unknown sport

0

“Life in Synchro” comes virtually to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society site on May 23. Exploring the subject of synchro ice skating, the film is a one-night special event sponsored by the Film Festival Alliance, and will include a Q and A.

Synchro ice skating has been around since Dr. Richard Porter founded it in 1956, but it is probably one of the most unheard-of sports. In 1956 there wasn’t much out there in the way of team sports for girls. Synchronized swimming, which dates to 1891, and has been called water ballet, achieved Olympic status in 1984. Though both sports are now coed, they continue to be overwhelmingly female. A little like synchronized swimming, synchronized ice skating requires much more speed, athletic skill, and coordination than its sister sport. The film suggests that it has attracted so little attention because of a lack of TV coverage, although it has been covered by Skating Magazine.

Consisting of eight to 16 members, teams perform at 14 different levels by age and skill, and there are already 525 teams in the U.S., as well as teams in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, and Turkey, as well as other nations. The skaters perform lines, blocks, intersections, circles, and wheels. In some movements, one skater lifts another one and carries her. Skaters will spin or leap, as well as perform turns called twizzles, counters, rockers, and choctaws.

The first official international competition in 1976 was held in Michigan, between the U.S. and Canada. With Finland winning the most contests (2001, 2011, 2019), the International Skating Union accepted the sport as a figure skating discipline in 1994. The 2020 competition, scheduled for Lake Placid, N.Y., was canceled because of coronavirus.

“Life in Synchro” says one characteristic of synchro ice skating is that it has no stars and has never been about any one skater. The emphasis is on fun, and the film includes shots of skaters tumbling, even sometimes crashing, into one another. Nevertheless, synchro skaters remain known for their teamwork, speed, and intricate formations. Originally called precision skaters, they compete in sectional championships in Eastern, Midwestern, and Pacific Coast divisions. The four top teams win a spot at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and those top two go on to the World Synchronized Skating Championships, held since 2000.

Called the Hockettes, the first team skated out of Ann Arbor, Mich., starting in 1956, and performed during intermissions of the U. Michigan Wolverines hockey games. “Life in Synchro” interviews members of that original team, who are now in their 60s and 70s. Remaining as committed as they were in their younger years, many of them continue to perform. Synchro ice skating inspires that kind of devotion. Although “Life in Synchro” says this hyper-feminine sport is 99.9 percent female, it does have a few co-ed teams, as well as one that’s all male, though no males are allowed in Olympic competition.

A good part of the pleasure of “Life in Synchro” comes from watching the skating teams perform their intricate and demanding exercises. Participants had hoped to see synchro ice skating become an Olympic sport by the 2022 games, but it didn’t happen. The sport will be reviewed for Olympic eligibility, and team members are not discouraged; they predict they will earn that privilege in the next 10 years.

To view “Life in Synchro,” visit mvfilmsociety.com.