All Things Ice

Esther Jewitt reveals some festive facts about ice skating in the world of sport.

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Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skating at their 30th anniversary. Image courtesy of Reuters

So far, global warming has ensured that Lancaster’s winter has been far too warm for anything other than near-constant (and highly destructive) rain, but maybe 2016 will provide us with the increasingly rare phenomenon of ice and snow. Most people agree that after the first two or three hours of excitement, this weather becomes a nuisance. You can’t walk on pavements without skidding and flailing around like a cartoon character, let alone contemplate driving without smothering everything in grit first.

It’s lovely to imagine donning ice skates and gliding effortlessly over the sheer surface of a tranquil frozen lake. But the reality for most of us in this country is a crowded temporary ice rink the size of the average back garden, with garish lights and Christmas pop songs blaring over the shrill squeals of children. And forget gliding – you shuffle dangerously along, clutching the barrier for dear life. Or if you’re brave, you venture out into the realm of chaotic teenagers and those enormous plastic penguins with toddlers attached. You daren’t fall over – not because you’re afraid of the ice, but because the two million other people on this rink will slice you into little pieces with their clumsy hire-skates.

So perhaps it is safer to just watch it on the telly. Figure skating is mesmerising to watch, as anyone who has seen ITV’s Dancing on Ice will know. Figure skating first featured as an Olympic sport in 1908, and has been a regular part of the Winter Olympic Games since 1924. The most common competitions are men’s singles, ladies singles and pair skating. Ice dancing was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1976, which is a form of figure skating and though it looks pretty similar, it focuses more on footwork, like ballroom dancing. You may have heard of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who won the ice dancing gold medal for Great Britain in 1984. They became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time, with twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s, before turning professional and becoming World champions. Go Great Britain!

How do you make competitive ice-skating more dangerous? The answer is ice hockey, which has been played in the UK since the beginning of the twentieth century. Team GB won the first ever Ice Hockey European Championship in 1910 and bagged Olympic bronze in 1924 and gold in 1936. However they’ve sadly not achieved much since.

Speed skating is also an Olympic sport and was also introduced in 1924, however women’s events were only added in 1960. As you can guess, it involves racing on a track of ice over various distances, and is absolutely terrifying to watch. The fastest recorded speed skaters can reach over 30mph. Great Britain hasn’t won a single medal in Olympic speed skating. Don’t worry, we can blame our dismal weather and our pathetic Christmas ice rinks.