Finnish skaters combine power and grace

Why is synchronised skating so popular in Finland, which holds multiple medals in the sport?

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Speed, movement, music and choreography contribute to the growing popularity of synchronised skating, a discipline in which Finland holds multiple world championship medals. The international Finlandia Trophy competition is held every autumn in the Helsinki area.

“Figure skating is a multifaceted sport, because it combines athletics and aesthetics,” says synchronised skating coach Katariina Luotonen. “You can express yourself through movement and music and practise skating along with dance, ballet and gymnastics to improve your body power and grace. The feeling when you are speeding across the ice is amazing.”

Luotonen began figure skating at five and participated in both single figure skating and synchronised skating with one of Finland’s top teams, Marigold Ice Unity. She later moved into coaching, and works with Tikkurila Figure Skating Club, located just north of Helsinki and known by its Finnish abbreviation, TTK.

Always popular in Finland, figure skating continues to grow, attracting people of all ages. Clubs throughout Finland offer training in single (individual) skating, synchronised (group) skating and ice dance in pairs.

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Young girls of the Tikkurila Figure Skating Club train on ice four times a week.Photo: Susanna Alatalo

Synchronised skating, especially, has seen a rise in popularity since the 1990s. It’s a team sport in which eight to 20 skaters perform a programme together. It utilises the same judging system as other figure skating events, and is characterised by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences.

“Being a single skater is very competitive, and most of the time you train by yourself,” Luotonen explains. “Synchronised skating is a team sport, which makes it more fun. As with all team sports, the team spirit comes from doing things together and working towards a common goal. The support from your team members while sharing success, failure, joy and sorrow are assets that will stay with you throughout your life.”

Every child learns to skate

Team Unique puts on a triumphant show as Team Finland 1 at the 2013 World Championship in Boston.

 

Ice skating is regarded as a basic skill in Finland, comparable to swimming or riding a bike. Every child learns to skate at a young age. Because of the long winters, they also have ample opportunity to practice outdoors, as many soccer fields are transformed into ice rinks.

Children of all ages gather after school to play ice hockey or figure skate with their friends. Ice skating is also included in physical education lessons at school.In addition nearly every city has indoor skating rinks, many of which are in year-round use.

Luotonen believes several reasons exist for the growing popularity of synchronised skating: “The team spirit, the show element and the success of Finnish skating teams in competitions all over the world are drawing more and more children to this sport.”

In April 2013, Finland’s Team Unique won the world championship. In previous years, Finnish teams Marigold Ice Unity and Rockettes have taken turns winning the gold medal with Sweden and Canada. Meanwhile, the success of single figure skaters Kiira Korpi and Laura Lepistö has made them into idols for young skating enthusiasts.

No age limit for a new hobby

“If you wish to be successful [at the top level], you need to start early,” Luotonen says, but adds that there is no age limit to when you can start a new hobby. You can start lessons as early as three years old, but skating lessons and teams for adult beginners are also available.

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In team sports like synchronised skating, team members gain a lot of support from their peers.Photo:Joukkue Ice Melody

“Ice Melody, one of the teams I am coaching at TTK, consists of 23 energetic girls aged 8 to 12,” says Luotonen. “They are such a fun, spontaneous group of girls, who always make me laugh. They train on ice four times a week, in addition to dance classes and fitness training.

“My goal is to teach them to grow into young athletes, making healthy choices in all parts of life in order to achieve certain targets. At this age, targets are not measured in results or medals, but in growth on a personal and team level.”

By Catarina Stewen, September 2013

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