Back in 3000 BC, the first ice skates appeared. Made from animal bones, they were an important tool for the Finnish while hunting. Then, in the 13th century, the Dutch added edges and created a close prototype of skates we see today. Since then, figure skating has come a long way, from means of conveniently commuting on foot in wintertime to elaborate international competitions with a huge number of spectators.
The First Competitions
The honor of holding the title for the first European Championship ever held belong to the Germans. They hosted the event in 1891 in Hamburg. Merely 7 registered competitors participated in the first European Championship, all men, and they performed only one segment, compulsory figures (circular patterns performed on ice to demonstrate skill and plasticity). The World Championship was first held in Sankt Petersburg not long after, in 1896. The event in the former Russian Empire had the total of 4 competitors and Gilbert Fuchs proved to be the worthiest of all. Interestingly, figure skating is the very first winter sport to be included into the Olympics. 1908 was the year this sport appeared in the Summer Olympics in London. Two of the events had only three people participating, which guaranteed a medal for each participant. All of these major international competitions are sanctioned by ISU (International Skating Union) – a governing body that deals with competitive ice-skating disciplines.
Since in many northern countries ice skating was a means of transportation, the practice was not limited to a single social class and it was acceptable for everyone to take part in it, be it out of need or for pleasure. The Dutch were the pioneers of such practice as the need to efficiently commute in winter times was immense there. However, in regions were need-based skating was not a thing, the activity was oftentimes limited to the upper classes of society – many kings and emperors such as Emperor Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire, King Luis XVI and Napoleon I were fans of ice skating.
World War I and World War II put a pause on the development of many aspects of life, including figure skating. There were no major international competitions in between 1915 and 1921 as well as 1940 to 1946. When ice skating did return, however, it started growing faster than ever in popularity and athletes’ effort. Ice rinks dedicated solely to ice skating were popping up everywhere, which allowed people to train more intensively and in general increased the interest of societies. In terms of competitions, the numbers of participants were growing drastically. In 1952, ice dancing became a part of the World Championship. In 1968 Winter Olympics, it was included as a demonstration sport and officially added to the competitions in 1976. Because the war-torn Europe fell behind in ice skating, many top competitors came form the USA or Canada and dominated the competitions in years following WWII. Now, however, many countries can offer exceptional facilities for training, technological advancements allow for higher quality ice and skates, and human physical abilities seem to have no limits.