Monday, January 25, 2010

Figure Skating: A History

This book: it exists.

I tried to check this book out from the library, but it turns out the library does not have a copy of it. "All right," I thought, "screw research." As such, this post will be light on the history, heavy on the Wikipedia, and exhaustive on the skaters in silly costumes.

This is as it should be.

We begin our journey in 1772 when an Englishman named Robert Jones published A Treatise on Skating. He described ice skating as a formal and stiff affair-- that is to say totally and completely English in every way. (To review, the Irish dancers keep their arms rigid because the English tried to root out free-wheeling Irish culture and make everything as staid and inelastic as possible.) This "English Style" of ice skating would not last long, though.

In the mid-1860s, instead of, you know, defending freedom and justice in the American Civil War, Jackson Haines was developing the figure skating style we now know and love. He was a ballet dancer, and he worked to incorporate the same grace and performance into his figure skating performances. He was the first to incorporate much of what we now understand figure skating to be-- the first to incorporate music, the first to actually attach the blades to his boots (instead of, you know, strapping them on), and the first to really do athletic moves in skating. As it turns out, it was hard to stick your landing when your skates were attached with what was basically twine.

Also please note the early introduction of ridiculous costumes.

Then some history happened. It mostly did not involve ridiculous costumes. Pity.

Meet Madge and Edgar Syers. Madge is, to date, the oldest Ladies' gold medalist at age 27.
Also, what is going on with her hat (head cake)?

Join us next time as we bring skating into the modern era with all kinds of technological advancements. Mostly? Sequins.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Olympics

Snow! Chill in the air! People sledding down incredibly slick tracks face first! It can only mean one thing: the Winter Games are almost upon us!

The first Winter Games were held in Chamonix in 1924, but nobody knew it at the time. What?

It appears we are at the Winter Olympics, my dear.

Basically, the IOC held a "Nordic week" at the 1924 Olympic Games. Previously, figure skating and hockey had both appeared at the Olympics, but it had become clear that a new approach was needed. Perhaps a week all to themselves? How about eleven days that we'll call a week? Perfect.

Bobsledding was a lot more dangerous back in those days. For one thing, there were GIANT EAGLES clearly bent on killing. Also, no helmets.

From there, it was only a matter of time before the Winter Games became their own event. And once that had happened, why not retroactively declare that "Nordic Week" had actually been the first Winter Games? In fact, why not retroactively declare Pierre de Coubertin King of Everything Forever?

Pierre de Coubertin


However they began, we here at Mount Olymics are glad the Winter Games persevered. (And not just because I gets a huge crush on the speed skaters every single time.) Winter sports showcase a rare instance of athleticism in sync with the natural (or semi-natural) world. You can't ski without snow. You can't skate without ice. And you can't win without understanding that your fate is, in some inextricable way, tied to that of the natural world. Fantastic.

Photo credits:
Gillis Gafstrom, a Swedish figure skater Gillis Grafström and Norwegian Sonja Henie, 1924.
Poster from Chamonix games, complete with terrifying eagle.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Oh, Canada. Not my home and native land, but I love you just the same. We have had some good times together, you and I, and shared many laughs.

But no more.

For the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, however, Canada is taking itself very seriously. Although it has long been a huge player in international winter sporting competitions, Canada has never really come out on top. The world-class Canadian athletes have long settled for silver and bronze, allowing countries like Norway, Russia, and, embarrassingly, the US to dominate.

Hosting the Games hasn't helped, either. During the 1976 Montreal [Summer] Games and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games (think Amik the beaver and Hidy and Howdy), the Canadian team did not win a single gold medal. The Soviet Union dominated both tournaments and the US team made it into the top ten both times.

“We’re the only country to host two Olympic Games and never have won a gold medal at our Games,” Cathy Priestner Allinger told the New York Times. “It’s not a record we’re proud of.”

Well, Canada is fed up and is not going to take take it any more. They are going to win some gold medals come hell or high water. It is taking precautions that some have even termed "American," an insult indeed. For instance, it has limited the practice time American teams are afforded. Also, this year's slogan? "Own the Podium." YEAHHHH!

"Own the Podium is obnoxious and un-Canadian," says Louise Fox, a Canadian etiquette expert told the Wall Street Journal. "Up here we don't toot our own horn like that."

Well, toot away Canada. You toot your pants off. I'll be cheering for you.


Links links links:
"Welcome to Canada... Prepare to Lose," WSJ.
Luge federations spar over Whistler training time , CTV.  
Canada protects home advantage at Olympics, NYT.