Walk through the entrance of the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame and you will see, behind you and next to the door, a plaque dedicated to the memory of those members of the United States figure skating team who lost their lives on Sabena Flight 548. Making a stop in Brussels, Belgium before completing their trip to compete in the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, eighteen athletes of the 1961 U.S. team and sixteen others made up of family members, coaches, and officials died in the crash.
Located on the other side of the floor is a section dedicated to that same team and its legacy. In 2011, the year marking the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the entire team as well as the coaches, officials, and family members who perished in the crash were inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Their induction is more than just a nice gesture; it is a fitting tribute to those athletes and their supporters who perished while pursuing their respective dreams. After the disaster, U.S. Figure skating started a fund to handle the numerous donations that came from around the world in memory of the crash victims. Today the money is used to support figure skaters who are in need of financial assistance both to compete and to attend school.
Lutz, Toe Loop, Axel, Salchow
The emotionally moving story of the Flight 548 tragedy and its positive aftermath, however, is not all there is to this museum. For those of us unfamiliar with figure skating’s technical aspects, this is the place where we can learn about them. Figure skaters move quickly across the ice, so it is easy to see how the casual fan has difficulty distinguishing a triple Lutz from a double Salchow. If you are one of those fans–I suspect that many of you are–spend some time in the section entitled Jumps and Spins. Here these same difficult movements are explained–and demystified–with well written placards and an engaging Scott Hamilton video.
Around the corner is another display explaining the variations in boots and blades. Figures boots, freestyle boots, dance boots, along with figures blades, freestyle blades, and dance blades show that there is as much variation in the figure skater’s equipment as there is between that of a hockey player and a speed skater. So what is the point? Well, it’s clearly all done for a reason. Who would have thought? I didn’t, but obviously some people who know much more than I do about a particular skate’s function and how a skater can optimize its performance put a great deal of thought into these respective designs. I’ve always found it interesting when what appears to be a relatively simple application turns out to be actually more complex than I would’ve ever thought.
Ever heard of synchronized skating? I hadn’t either until I saw the museum’s substantial display dedicated to it. Added as a separate discipline in 1994, synchronized skating has attracted thousands of competitors. Competitions are held at eight different levels. Divided up by age and mastery, they exist to fairly match competitors as well as to identify those skaters who should be considered for national-level competitions. There is also a collegiate version. Since 1997, Miami University (the one in Ohio) has been the dominant, and trailblazing team. Other college teams such as the University of Michigan and the University of Delaware are making a name for themselves as well, and for those of you who want to see a competition, the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Providence, Rhode Island respectively.
On the same floor–the museum has two levels–a timeline of figure skating history covers an entire wall. The story of how modern figure skating came to be is extensive and, in some ways, surprising. For example: an American named Jackson Haines traveled, in the mid 1800s, to Europe to demonstrate his skating style that differed markedly from that of his European counterparts. American critics hated it, but the Europeans apparently liked his use of dance moves and music. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Figure skating, as a result of Haines’ influence, would never be the same. There is much more to the story of figure skating, and many more people in addition to Haines who influenced it, so this is the section of the museum in which to spend a significant part of your visit reading and learning.
I am a huge fan of art museums, so I must admit to being pleased at the museum’s inclusion of skating-themed art. And it isn’t just the fact that they included it, but the quality and the uniqueness of many of the works. In the main level is a unique piece that at first glance looks like one of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings. But it’s not. It is actually a piece created by ice dancers, Judy Blumberg and Michael Siebert. They stretched a canvas across the ice and made the intriguing, abstract patterns by skating through paint and then across the canvas. I can write about it, but it really is one of those things that you have to see to understand and appreciate.
On the lower level are numerous skating themed art works. Paintings, drawings, lithographs, and bronzes depict everything from everyday people enjoying casual pond skating to pairs competitors doing a “death spiral.”
In addition to the art, there is also, throughout the museum, no shortage of skating memorabilia. To your left after entering is prominently displayed, alongside Dick Button’s jacket that he wore at the 1952 Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies, Sarah Hughes’ 2002 Olympic costume. In a separate room is an actual Olympic gold medal. The medal, from the 1920 Olympics, was awarded to Swedish figure skater, Gillis Grafström. Costumes, photos, and even a torch from the 2002 games are on display.
I’ve said a lot about what you will see and experience at this museum. There is also much that I’ve left unsaid. Including all of it would take far more words than I think most readers are willing to wade through, and I’ve only mentioned enough so that, I hope by now, you feel like seeing more. And there is more; much more that you can see and experience at this educational and enlightening museum.