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Boot and Blade

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How Figure Skating Works: Advancements in Figure Skate Construction

A reader asked me for some information on recent advancements in figure skate construction. Here are a few points of interest that might be helpful for his granddaughter’s fourth grade report on Figure Skating.

The oldest pair of skates apparently date back to 3000 BC, found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The blades were made from animal bones and strapped on to the skater’s feet/shoes with leather straps.

We’ve come a long way since then!

In the mid-1800′s figure skates began to take the same shape we see today, with boots and blades attached as opposed to strapping blades on to boots or shoes. About the same time, the first artificial rink was built in London and figure skating was becoming popular as both a recreational activity and as a sport.

In the 1920′s and 30′s women began wearing white figure skates, thanks to the fashion-forward Sonja Henie. She was also the first to shorten her skating skirt so that she could execute difficult jumps and spins.

While the figure skate has changed slightly from decade to decade–mostly by increasing the firmness of the leather around the ankles–there wasn’t a lot of  boot and blade innovation between 1914 and 2004.

But in 2004, researchers at the University of Delaware designed a hinged figure skating boot meant to reduce injury. It cushions the jump landing and allows the skater to land jumps with their heel higher in the air, which apparently reduces stress on skaters’ knees, hips and spine.

Photo Credit: Kathy Atkinson, University of Delaware

Photo Credit: Kathy Atkinson, University of Delaware

In the 2005/2006 season, American skater Alissa Czisney tried out the innovative hinged skate. This is what she had to say about it in her online journal.

I haven’t seen her wear the hinged boot the last couple of seasons, so perhaps the jury is still out on whether or not these boots improve jumping. They are certainly not the norm as all the skaters you’ll see at the Olympics are wearing standard leather boots.

Want to learn more about how figure skates are made? Check out this article, which also explains the difference between figure, hockey and speed skates.

One Response to “How Figure Skating Works: Advancements in Figure Skate Construction”

  1. Alisa R Says:

    There are many different styles of figure skates these days. For the more serious skater you have full leather boots, for kids there are plastic molded skates, and for those looking for comfort some skates now even made the same as soft boot inline skates.

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