U.S. Figure Skating History


Although skating was born in Europe, Americans can be proud of the fact that figure skating, as we know it today, traces its origins directly back to an American - Jackson Haines - who was born in New York in 1840 and died in 1875 in Finland (popular folklore holds that he caught pneumonia during a raging blizzard he encountered while traveling by sled from St. Petersburg to Stockholm; in reality his death was attributed to tuberculosis).

Just before the Civil War, a skating craze, accompanied by a dancing craze, swept America, and during this time, Haines leapt into the limelight with his daring combination of both skating and dance. He was a true revolutionary, for in a country where figure skating had laboriously developed a stiff and rigid style, the free and expressive movements of his virtuoso performances were frowned on, if not actually condemned.

Haines claimed to be the champion of America in 1863; however, at that time many self-proclaimed "championships" were held without any legitimate or official claim to the title, so Haines' title cannot be substantiated. At any rate, the continued cool reception given to him in his own country prompted him to go to Europe, where he was warmly and enthusiastically received. When he arrived in Vienna, he received the warmest reception of all; he was an immediate success. Little wonder, in the home of the graceful Viennese Waltz! It was here, as a direct result of his pioneering performances, that the so-called "International Style of Figure Skating" was born. It wasn't until many years later - in the first decade of this century - that this style finally came home to America.

Although local skating clubs had been formed and competitions held since the middle of the 19th century, the sport functioned informally, and some years were to pass before the formation of the United States Figure Skating Association in 1921 (now known as U.S. Figure Skating). Only then was the machinery established that has guaranteed the growth in this country of the modern, highly-developed sport of figure skating. U.S. Figure Skating is comprised of member clubs, individual members and associate members.

When the association was first formed and became a member of the International Skating Union (ISU), there were seven charter member clubs of U.S. Figure Skating. Now the organization has more than 600 member clubs across the country. Membership in U.S. Figure Skating carries certain privileges and entitles figure skaters to participate in the tests, competitions and exhibitions sponsored by the association.

Until the early '20s, there were no set standards of proficiency; if a skater felt qualified to compete, he/she did so. Today, tests - figure, free skating, moves in the field, pair, dance and synchronized team skating - are the measurement of progress in the various branches of the sport. Official test sessions sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating are conducted by member clubs for their members and members of collegiate clubs, as well as for individual members. Under certain conditions, ineligible persons and members of other skating associations may also take U.S. Figure Skating official tests.

Competitions on every level are a principal incentive for figure skaters to train, develop and improve their proficiency. By ascending the competition "ladder," competitors registered with U.S. Figure Skating gain entry into international figure skating events - among them the Olympic Winter Games and World Championships. All figure skating competitions in the United States, especially the regional, sectional and U.S. Championships, which are the steps that are ascended to qualify for international competitions, are sanctioned directly or indirectly by U.S. Figure Skating and are conducted by member clubs.

Exhibitions provide exposure for the talents of figure skaters. U.S. Figure Skating member clubs are eligible to hold figure skating exhibitions in the United States with the sanction of U.S. Figure Skating. Most people are aware nowadays of the professional ice shows that tour the world, but how many people know the genesis of this extremely popular form of show business? In the 1920s and '30s, commercial ice shows did not exist. At that time, a few U.S. Figure Skating member clubs regularly mounted ice carnivals - showcases for the top national and international skating talents. Only later, after champions such as Sonja Henie had gained their reputations through these carnivals, did they turn professional and inaugurate the professional shows that have developed into the multimillion-dollar businesses they are today.

A very important function of U.S. Figure Skating has been the financial assistance provided to skaters by the Memorial Fund, which was founded in the wake of the tragic plane crash that took the lives of the entire 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team.

The Memorial Fund was conceived as a means to not only honor the memory of the team, but also to give continuing support and assistance to up-and-coming skaters to help them reach the World Championships.

In addition, U.S. Figure Skating publishes SKATING magazine (est. 1923), which provides factual in-depth coverage of the world of skating for sports enthusiasts.

U.S. Figure Skating made its home on the Internet when U.S. Figure Skating Online debuted in 1995 (www.usfigureskating.org). The web site features news, results, ticket information and information on the organization's many programs, and it has become a regular stop for more than 300,000 skating enthusiasts each month.

U.S. Figure Skating expanded its presence on the web with the launch of icenetwork.com in 2007. The site has the exclusive rights to U.S. Figure Skating's interactive media properties and is a partnership between U.S. Figure Skating and MLB Advanced Media. Icenetwork.com offers exclusive live and on-demand coverage of domestic and international competitions while giving fans the opportunity to stay updated with news and information from the world of figure skating year round.

Figure skating has come a long way since the time Jackson Haines took to the ice, and its continued growth will be assured the support of the American people through U.S. Figure Skating.