Finland Dominates World Synchro Championships

Synchronized skating celebrated its 12th year on the global stage in early April, and the popularity of the sport was never more evident than at the 2011 World Synchronized Skating Championships, which took place in Helsinki, Finland.

With 21 teams from 16 member nations participating, the competition was fierce. For the first time, the top ten was composed of teams from five countries.

More than 7,000 spectators filled the Helsinki Ice Hall to witness hometown favorites the Rockettes (Team Finland 1) and Marigold IceUnity (Team Finland 2) capture the top two podium spots ahead of America’s top team, the Haydenettes.

The two Finnish teams had competed against each other five times during the season with the Rockettes claiming victory four times.

Known for their skill and consistency, the Rockettes placed first in both segments of the competition, scoring 74.81 points for the short program to “Carnival of Brazil.” The free skate to “Heaven or Hell” earned 140.62, and with a combined total of 215.43, the Rockettes mined gold.

It was the second successive global title and the third in the past four seasons for the team, which has called the Helsinki Ice Hall home since 1984. The victory also marked a milestone in the sport: it was the first time since 2001 that a team had successfully defended the World title (Sweden’s Team Surprise won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001).

“This competition was special. The crowd was amazing and supported not only us, but all the teams,” said Rockettes captain Kristina Herbert. “I felt nervous when I walked from the dressing room to the rink, but after stepping on the ice, the tension was gone. The ice was just for us.”

Kaisa Nieminen, who has coached the team for 14 years, was ecstatic. “This was a two-year project and we enjoyed every hour we worked along the way,” she said. “The free program in Helsinki was definitely one of our best skates this season.”

Marigold IceUnity gave its hometown rivals a run for the money, skating into second with a score of 213.48, a mere 1.95 points behind the leaders. The team put down a strong free skating performance to “The Pirate Queen” but received a deduction for a late start.

“Of course we were a little disappointed, but I’m still very proud of my team,” said coach Anu Oksanen. “The girls skated two amazing programs under enormous pressure.”

The last time Helsinki hosted the World Synchronized Skating Championships in 2001, Saga Krantz was a member of the Rockettes team that claimed the silver medal.

A decade later, the Finn returned to her home arena in another role, as the coach of Team USA 1, the Haydenettes from Lexington, Mass.

The American team gave its coach reason to celebrate when it skated into third, winning the bronze medal with a total of 205.40 points. It was the second successive year the team had captured bronze.

“The week has been very special for us in many ways. We are very happy to get a medal here in Finland, the home country of our coach. Maybe we understand Saga even better now that we know where she comes from,” said captain Jenna Longo with a laugh. “Saga is an amazingly talented choreographer. It made these championships very special for the team.”

Sweden’s Team Surprise put down an entertaining circus-themed free skating performance. Though the team had the third best skate in the free, it placed fourth overall with 204.50. Valuable points were lost with mistakes in the circle element and moves in isolation.

For the second consecutive year, the Canadian teams returned home without collecting any medals. Nexxice, the 2009 World champions, presented a graceful free program to “Dolencias Sikuriadas” by Incantation and skated into fifth with a score of 202.60.

In early May the Finnish figure skating community gathered at the White Hall in Helsinki to celebrate the World Synchronized Skating champions and the silver medalists.

Susanna Rahkamo, chairperson of the Finnish Figure Skating Association, had just one message for the medalists: “I’m grateful that we got to share those moments with the world. We will never forget this competition. Thank you.”

The 2012 World Synchronized Skating Championships are scheduled to take place in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Originally published in August 2011