By Barbara Perry Bind
Picture 20 skaters moving around the ice at high speeds performing a combination of complicated turns, intricate steps and complex movements -- all as one cohesive unit.
This is synchronized skating, a sport that is growing in popularity around the world -- and right here in Greenwich.
A group of talented young girls from across the town are part of the highly competitive Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team, which is made up of 135 skaters and competes around the world. So far this season, the Skyliners have had strong showings at the Thanksgiving Classic in Plymouth, Mass., the Dr. Porter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Terry Connors Synchronized Skating Classic in Stamford and the Cape Cod Synchronized Skating Classic in Mass.
Skyliners skaters dream that their success will one day land them in the Olympics. Although the sport is not yet included in the games, synchronized skating was selected as a demonstration sport at the World University Games and has been under review for Olympics eligibility.
The Citizen asked coaches and people behind the scenes at the Skyliners to talk about the growing sport and how local skaters are taking to the ice to skate with their teams.
What is synchronized skating?
Synchronized skating, originally called precision skating, consists of 12 to 20 athletes skating on the ice at one time, moving as one flowing unit, at high speeds.
For a synchronized team to flow in unison, individual skaters must be competent at a variety of skating skills, including speed, footwork and ice presence. The team performs a program set to music, with required formations including circles, lines, blocks, wheels, and intersections. The teams are required to perform difficult step sequences involving a number of complicated turns and movements.
There are international synchronized skating competitions at the novice, junior, and senior levels (with senior being the most elite). Although not currently an Olympic sport, in 2007 synchronized skating took one step closer to Olympic contention when it was selected to be part of the Universiade, or World University Games, as a demonstration sport.
Synchronized skating is a varsity sport at several colleges such as Miami University (and many more are developing club-level collegiate teams without varsity status), and it already has been reviewed for Olympic eligibility. It is believed that synchronized skating is being seriously considered for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
What is Skyliners?
The Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2001. Since its inception, Skyliners have achieved acclaim and respect throughout the synchronized skating community as one of the top synchronized skating organizations in the country.
Skyliners has grown to be comprised of 135 skaters, skating on seven different levels, or lines.
The Skyliners beginner, preliminary and prejuvenile teams represent Windy Hill Skating Club in Greenwich.
The Skyliners juvenile, intermediate novice and junior teams represent the Skating Club of New York, and all Skyliners teams compete in U.S. Figure Skating Association sanctioned Synchronized Team Skating competitions. Recently, Skyliners announced that they will be adding a senior line next year, which will be made up of 20 college-age skaters from around the tri-state region.
This is the highest level team currently involved in synchronized skating and will be the level that will qualify for the Olympics if, indeed, synchronized skating will be included in the Olympics.
Also, Skyliners recently participated in an exhibition at Chelsea Piers to raise money for Toys for Tots. Skyliners Junior team has been featured on the Rachael Ray show and skated at Governor Eliot Spitzer's inauguration ceremony.
In addition, Skyliners junior team has recently been asked to exhibit at U.S. Figure Skating's National Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 30 in North Carolina, which is a huge honor and opportunity for our team.
What skills are required for synchronized skating?
The variety and difficulty of elements require that each team member is a highly skilled individual skater. The typical senior-level athlete has passed a senior or gold test in at least two disciplines -- free style, moves-in-the-field and/or ice dancing.
Are there required elements and formations for each competition program?
Elements in synchronized skating include blocks, circles, wheels, lines, intersections, moves in the field, moves in isolation, no-hold step sequences, spins and pairs moves.
There are a variety of different age and skill levels in synchronized skating. Synchronized teams in the U.S. can compete in 14 different levels, according to the age and skill level of the team members. Teams competing at the basic skills (beginner) level may compete at any U.S. Figure Skating synchronized skating non-qualifying competition or U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills competition. Teams competing at the developmental levels of preliminary, pre-juvenile, open juvenile, open collegiate or open adult may also compete at the Eastern, Midwestern or Pacific Coast Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships, held annually at the end of January.
Teams at the competitive levels of juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, senior, collegiate, adult or masters compete first at their respective sectional championships. A placement in the top four at sectionals earns them a spot at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. Top-performing teams at the junior and senior levels have the opportunity to earn a berth to the U.S. Synchronized Skating Team, with the top two senior teams going on to represent the United States at the World Synchronized Skating Championships
Is this a relatively new sport?
Yes, but it has been steadily gaining in popularity. U.S. Figure Skating held the first U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in 1984 and also hosted the first World Synchronized Skating Championships in 2000.
Are there many competitions in the country -- or world -- for this sport?
Yes, there are competitions and teams from countries all around the world. In the US, there are approximately 525 synchronized teams registered with U.S. Figure Skating, and nearly 5,000 athletes participate annually in the synchronized skating sectional championships.
How many of your skaters are from Greenwich? Did any qualify for the junior world team?
We currently have 20 girls from the Greenwich area on Skyliners various lines listed from introductory level through junior, which is our most advanced level at this time.
Our Greenwich girls and their levels are Emma Hentemann, beginner; Melissa Woo, beginner; Nicole Huber, preliminary; Margot Sosa, preliminary; Heidi Jacobson, preliminary; Kathryn Goodfriend, preliminary; Madison deBlasi, preliminary; Nathalie Felton, preliminary; Michelle Woo, preliminary; Kristen Lewis, pre-juvenile; Whitney Elmlinger, pre-juvenile; Raven Vaz, pre-juvenile; Elizabeth Essaid (Old Greenwich), pre-juvenile; Amanda Brea (Old Greenwich), pre-juvenile; Stephanie Achoa, juvenile; Rebecca Wright, intermediate/novice; Jordyn Young, intermediate; Marisa Goff (Old Greenwich), intermediate; Jordana Adler (Cos Cob), novice; Julie Goodfriend, novice; Brooke Abbott (Cos Cob), junior and Mairead Brock (Cos Cob), junior.
Two of our Greenwich girls are on the junior team, and will be going to Milan this year for international competition.
Who coaches the synchronized skating team? Were any of the coaches synchronized skaters?
Skyliners has six coaches, under the direction of head coach Josh Babb, who also coaches Skyliners intermediate and junior teams. Babb is a former Canadian Junior Ice Dance Champion and a nationally and internationally recognized choreographer.
Five of the coaches all have significant synchronized skating experience, as both synchro skaters, and synchro coaches.
Where do you practice? Is it difficult to get ice time?
Skyliners practice at area rinks in New York and Connecticut. It is very difficult to get ice time in the region, and synchro competes with hockey for that time.
Skyliners practice at Rye Playland's Ice Casino, Westchester Skating Academy in Elmsford, N.Y., Sport-o-rama in Monsey, N.Y., the Ice Hutch in Pelham, N.Y., and our beginner preliminary and prejuvenile teams practice at the Dorothy Hamill Rink in Greenwich and at Twin Rinks in Stamford.
What is your season? What is your practice season and schedule?
Regular practice begins in September, and our last competition is in March. Clinics and tryouts begin immediately thereafter, and there is some summer training in the last few weeks of August as well.
How many competitions do you take part in each season?
Different level Skyliners Lines take part in different competitions throughout the season.