World Figure Sport Society

By Terri Milner Tarquini


December 1, 2017
36
   In The Loop Extended Articles

When it comes to the foundation and history of figure skating, everything is in the name of the sport itself: figure skating.

That might also be key in the sport’s future.

“There has been a fracture of knowledge - and that knowledge is absolutely vital to skating,” said Karen Courtland Kelly, president of the World Figure Sport Society, a not-for-profit organization created in 2015 to annually hold the World Figure & Fancy Skating Championships & Festival. “Jumping on ice really started with the first flying figure and the question: ‘Can I hop this three-turn, leave the ice, land and continue gliding?’ Over time, this knowledge built how the turns skated on the ice started to fly through the air, so all the roots of figure skating originate and are related to the knowledge accumulated from a figure.”

Three years ago, World Figure Sport started the World Figure & Fancy Skating Championships & Festival, held last October in Vail, CO, with the express desire to link the past with the present in a fascinating way so skating’s rich history can stay alive and find new life of its own. To that end, World Figure Sport has also gone to great extremes to catalogue the history of the sport for generations to come.

“Skating started as a need for human transportation,” Kelly said. “Eventually, long before there were computers and cell phones and iPads, skating went from a mode of getting around and moved into the entertainment arena. When water froze on lakes and ponds, it was often black and people started seeing the tracing their blades left on the ice. From there, it slowly evolved into a sport where someone saw the tracings that someone else’s blades left on the ice and they thought, ‘Well, if they can do that, then maybe I can skate and make that too.’”

Ice fuels the fire of the organization with impressive national, world and Olympic experiences in figure, speed and hockey backgrounds and knowledge within its board of directors and World Figure Hall of Fame members. Created in 2015 when the World Figure Sport Society founded the World Figure Hall of Fame, the first inductee was Dick Button and the second was Trixi Schuba. The 2017 inductees were Dorothy Hamill, Richard Dwyer, and John Curry, posthumously.

“You don’t realize when you’re in the sport for a very long time how little people know about skating,” Kelly said. “So many people don’t know that the ice in most indoor rinks is actually artificially painted white. Because of that, a lot of people don’t realize that one’s blade actually leaves tracings on the ice.”

Much like a teenager who can’t picture the world without cell phones, coaches and skaters who are in their 30s or younger often do not have any concept of the power a single push can generate or how much edge control is truly possible

Why? They never did figures.

“I guess in a way, you could say that I feel that skaters should learn figures and their history for the same reason I feel that kids should spend lots of time with their grandparents,” said Elisa Koshkina, coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and competitor at the 2017 World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships. “Figures show us where the sport has come from and what it’s made of.”

What. Skating. Is. Made. Of.

“Figures teaches us that any move is a combination of a given set of parts that look extremely simple, but that require a great deal of strength, precision, balance, timing and patience to get exactly right,” Koshkina said. “When we stick with them, they make us safer by helping us grow stronger and more stable and by giving us an understanding of how the motion and position of each tiny part of our body can affect the motion and position of the whole. In a nutshell, they ground us in good technique. It was so obvious to me the first time I ever worked on a forward outside eight for 10 minutes. When I finished up the figure, I started skating a pattern dance, and my edges were miraculously better.”

Koshkina did not grow up skating figures, but she knew something cool when she saw it, in the form of some fellow instructors who had been amongst the last skaters to pass their eighth tests at the old Broadmoor rink before it was shut down.

“I remember being stunned at what they could do,” she said. “They’d apparently wiggle around a little bit – and there would be a star on the ice, or a heart! They’d ask how to spell your name and then they’d write it – all on one foot! I was in awe.”

Nearly 20 years later, in July 2017, Koshkina embarked on a new path in her skating when, at a workshop and seminar held by World Figure Sport at the Apex ice arena in Colorado, she tested and competed her Forward Inside and Forward Outside 8 figures, winning both.

While competitors at the World Figure & Fancy Skating Championships vying for the world figure title must compete 16 total figures, the 2017 competition opened things up a bit and allowed skaters who wanted to compete for rankings in each individual figure to also enter.

That’s when Kelly’s encouragement clicked and Koshkina decided to give it a go, competing the FI8, FO8, FI Loops, RFI Maltese Cross, LFI Maltese Cross and the creative figure. The creative figure is a pattern invented by the skater themselves that ends up getting named for them and documented in the World Figure Sport archives.

“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at diagrams of legendary creative figures, like Nikolai Panin’s,” Koshkina said. “To think that mine will be in a book like that, documented and diagrammed, that it will be there alongside the creative figures of my mindbogglingly talented and accomplished competitors, and that people will be able to learn from it and take tests on it… it’s humbling. What an honor. And how lucky I am to be a part of the renaissance of this beautiful art and sport.”

Koshkina’s creative figure grew from a triskelion, an ancient symbol with roots in the Celtic tradition, although it went through many reincarnations before being performed.

“I see the Celtic symbol I based it on, but other people have said it looks like crop circles or a fidget spinner to them,” she said. “So long as people are engaged with it and find it appealing or interesting in some way, I’m happy! Its unofficial name is ‘Coming Around Again,’ to celebrate the fact that this is my second skating career.”

The ability to accomplish great feats of balance and power and fluidity all on one foot is something that many see as lacking - and a true harm – with the sport today.
“The essence of figures is that they are on one foot at a time and always on curves,” said Gary Beacom, the 1983 and 1984 Canadian silver medalist and competitor at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, who won the 2016 World Figure Championship men’s title. “These two fundamentals define figure skating and make it beautiful to perform and watch.”

The reality is, while it was an unintended consequence of the birth of Moves in the Field, many figure skaters and coaches of today do not know what a scribe is, much less a paragraph loop.

“We have drifted away from the simplicity and basic skills that figures demanded,” Beacom said. “Far too much two-foot skating, straight lines, hesitations and upper-body rotation have rendered the ice a detriment rather than an asset for performance. Nowadays, we see a loss of musicality, creative stagnation, inconsistency and ugly positions, particularly on jump landings.”

It’s a knowledge and past that Kelly and the World Figure Sport Society is not willing to sit idly by and watch fade.
"Even if you’ve never performed a figure in your life, you can start now and we are here to help you,” Kelly said. “World Figure Sport is creating a renaissance in the art and sport of figure skating by rebuilding and revitalizing its incredible foundation. We’re showing the beauty and joy of skating. We want to make the most positive impact in the most positive way."

To that end, the World Figure Sport Society granted 50 scholarships last year, two of which were donated by Barbara Wagner and Dick Button and named in their honor. Twenty of those scholarships were given for skaters to come to the “Figure It Out” workshop at the Apex arena in Colorado where 38 World Figure Sport exams were taken and everything from a Basic 8 to advanced special figures were skated.

“Anyone can learn,” Kelly said. “If they’ve never done a figure, they can start. If they haven’t done figures in over 20 years, they can do them again. If they are inspired to learn, the society is here for them.”

Kelly said the goal would be the ability to grant an unlimited amount of scholarships through the generosity of donors, who recognize that skating’s knowledge and structural foundation is of great importance and that it is for everyone to enjoy.

“There’s interest out there,” Kelly said. “People from all over the world watched the live streaming of the World Figure & Fancy Championships & Festival.”

While World Figure Sport has taken up the cause, the bigger picture is in the hands of the gatekeepers to the sport, i.e. the coaches.

“On social media, I’ll see someone post an old photo of a patch session and people will leave comments to the effect of, ‘Those were the days, but they’re gone now,’” Koshkina said. “The thing is, they’re only gone if we let them go. At the World Figure Sport workshop at the Apex ice arena in July we had 38 participants, most of whom were under 30. That doesn’t look to me as if no one’s interested, as if no one sees the value of figures, as if figures are gone forever.”

It's a call to arms that World Figure Sport is passionately spreading.

“The truth is, you don’t need a patch session to do a figure; all you need is a small piece of ice,” Kelly said. “We want the World Figure & Fancy Championships to continue in perpetuity for generations and generations. If you haven’t already gotten your skates out for 2018, you should now.”

For more information on the organization and competition, go to worldfiguresport.org and worldfigurechampionship.com

To read more about the World Figure & Fancy Championship & Festival, check out Terri Milner Tarquini’s article running in the January issue of
PS Magazine.