More than 15 years on this job has taught me a thing or two about synchronized skating. I know it’s not just synchronized swimming on ice, though there are some parallels. And I know about the Haydenettes, the wildly successful team from the Boston suburb of Lexington that’s won an amazing 21 national titles. But, until the World Championships came to the arena just across the street from the Only A Game studios, I’d never seen the sport in person.
The weirdest thing about synchronized skating isn’t 16 athletes dressed as matching Marilyn Monroes, down to the same earrings, hairstyle, and lipstick, though that is weird. It’s not the rush of cold air as they pass by in intricate groups doing the same move at the same time at the same speed with the same smile, though that’s weird, too. It’s not watching two lines of skaters push towards each other backwards, at breakneck speeds, holding your breath until they shift at the very last second to pass within inches of injury, though that is terrifying.
The weirdest thing about watching the last official practice of the World Synchronized Skating Championships is the disembodied baritone voice that tells teams it’s their turn to skate.
Peter Darby, whose daughter Samantha competes for Team Australia was kind enough to try to explain what the judges are looking for.
“You’ve got the wrong guy,” he laughed. “Um. Don’t know.”
“I mean it’s the crispness,” said Megan Maxwell, who coaches synchronized skating in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “The unison, there’s required elements for each of the different programs,” she said.
“So it’s not just that they’re all wearing the same outfit?” I asked.
“No, that’s the fluff. That’s the fluff. I mean these girls train a whole bunch,” she said. “It’s a job. You’re committed to these teams.”
Alison Panek skates for the novice national champions, the Crystalettes from Dearborn, Mich. She’s 15, and she’s been competing in synchronized skating since she was eight. But, she doesn’t show any signs of burning out.
“Just being out there with your 15 best friends, it’s so amazing and it’s like so supportive,” she said.
“And you get to wear some pretty some pretty snazzy outfits,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s fun too, getting all glitzed up,” she said.
By the time USA 1, the Haydenettes from Lexington, took the ice, I had learned a bit about what makes a good synchro team. They’re fast. They’re crisp. I’m pretty sure I saw some of those deep edges I was told to watch out for.
With their chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A,” the mostly local crowd clearly agreed.