Adult Skaters Embrace Lifelong Passion

Tatjana Flade
Jan Canlan and Midori Ito
Stephane Vachon
Homepage Feature: Jan Canlan...

The International Skating Union (ISU) celebrated its seventh Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany in June.

If the number of skaters who registered this year is anything to go by, interest in this competition is definitely on an upswing.

The adult figure skating movement took root in the U.S. in 1995 and more than 400 skaters registered for the first national Adult Championships. “We didn’t expect that,” said ISU council member Phyllis Howard. “Clearly there is a demand for the adult competitions. People appreciate them because they are real competitions.”

Approximately 100 skaters competed at the first international event, but seven years later more than 300 athletes from 26 nations took to the ice for four days of tough competition.

The Adult Championships are an affirmation that figure skating is not just the high-level elite sport that plays out at Grand Prix and Championship events; it is also a lifelong passion for many people who just love to skate.

Perhaps the best example in Oberstdorf of those who skate for the sheer joy of it was Rosmarie Sauter from Switzerland, who, at 71, was the oldest competitor.

Some of the skaters were at the beginner level, while at the other end of the spectrum there was Midori Ito, the 1989 World champion.

Ito, who will turn 42 this summer, landed a huge double Axel in her program as well as two other double jumps and executed two spins. But it was not enough for gold.

That honor went to Canadian-born Jan Calnan, who represented the U.S. Calnan landed nine doubles (two of them in combination) and three spins.

Canada’s Stephane Vachon claimed the coveted title in the Masters Men Free Skating II.

Though this competition is essentially all about the joy of skating, which made for some beautiful programs and solid performances, that did not mean everything was just for fun. Most of the competitors took this competition very seriously, some perhaps a little too much. A few skaters cried backstage, either after they had a rough skate or because they disagreed with their results.

Many things at this competition were the same as at a regular international event. Judges and technical specialists from the ISU made the calls, and many skaters sported team jackets. Elaborate costumes and makeup were a must, and fans tossed stuffed animals onto the ice.

In the injury department, a Finnish competitor broke her ankle, and other skaters competed with bandaged knees.

The ice dance event was a highlight. The German team of Birgit Aust and Joachim Fassbender were convincing in the Masters category in both pattern dances (Quickstep and Blues). They did not compete in the short dance, but the duo earned a level 4 for the twizzles in their free dance to “Heavy Cross.”

Rivals Diana Barkley and Geoffrey Squires of Canada were a little slower in their interpretation to songs by Édith Piaf. Still, their straight line lift garnered a level 3.

Below the Masters levels are the gold, silver and bronze categories. These are the levels in which most of the true amateurs, who lack competitive backgrounds, skated.

Some competed in several categories. France’s Nicolas Vérité had a successful week. He finished first in the silver ice dance event with partner Anne Jannin, second in pairs with Audrey Richemond Mazier and third in men’s singles (silver men, Age Group II).

Jan Calnan, who defeated Ito in the Ladies Masters Elite II division, and her partner Mark Stanford were the only skaters in the Masters Pairs category.

A number of couples in the other pairs events did not receive any levels for their elements. Pairs is not an easy discipline.

The category for artistic free skating was popular with spectators. In this discipline it is more important to show creative programs, as opposed to those that contain difficult elements. Competitors can include a minimum of one single jump and one spin, and a maximum of two.

However, only a few competitors presented truly creative and innovative programs. One such skater was America’s Dianna-Lynne Webster Wells, who performed a program to a Madonna tune, and another standout was Daniela Solinas from Germany, who chose a funny ballet routine.

“Anything that keeps people in the ice rink, buying ice time, taking coaching, can only contribute to the overall sport,” Howard said. “These people are often the best ambassadors for the sport in their communities and neighborhoods. All of these adults are physically fit, and that’s great.”

Rhea Schwartz, chair of the adult skating working group at the ISU, is especially pleased with how the level of skating has grown. “I am very proud and pleased with the development of this aspect of the sport,” Schwartz told IFS.

“This year we had two Olympians, Midori Ito and Czech ice dancer Jiří Pokorný who competed at the 1976 Olympics. We also had Annick de Trentinian, who represented France in ice dance at the 1958 World Championships.”

Schwartz pointed out how important not only the competition is, but also the camaraderie and the support for the competitors.

Adult figure skating is expanding, with national competitions being held in countries such as Italy, France, New Zealand, Australia and Estonia. “Adult skating helps the ISU increase its family,” Schwartz said. “It makes figure skating a lifetime sport. That is the goal.”

Originally published in October 2011