Figure skating: exploring the art and the competition


Photo of Madge Syers from the figure skating hall of fame

Megan McKay, staff writer

The history of figure skating in general and Mercyhurst’s history of Club Figure Skating both involve the art and sport aspect of the beloved activity. Figure skating has become a worldwide phenomenon thanks to the Olympics. Every four years, viewers worldwide are stunned by the impressive edge work, jumps, and dazzling shows performed on the international stage. However, figure skating got its start long before the sport and art were implemented in the 1908 Summer Olympics. Figure skating has surprisingly been around since 3,000 BC when Scandinavians and Russians designed skates for their animals to travel on the ice in winter. Eventually, skating made its way to America before the Civil War, when it became an affordable recreational activity. New York City’s frozen pond in Central Park brought in many participants, but despite its popularity, competitiveness was taken abroad when the Vienna Skating Club hosted the first international championship. Soon after, the sport’s first star flourished, Ulrich Salchow from Sweden, and second-best Madge Syers from the United Kingdom.
When figure skating made its Olympic debut at the summer games, Salchow won the men’s gold medal, and Syers won the women’s gold. Figure skating would eventually return to the summer games in 1920 before becoming the first winter sport staged in 1924. For a while, figure skating was the only event at the Winter Olympics, and even with the addition of over fifteen other disciplines, it remains the most highly viewed and liked sport. With its growing popularity, the demand for a figure skating club eventually reached Mercyhurst in 2018. When the club started, it was made up of a single member before eventually being recognized as an Athletic Department Sponsored Club sport. The team is now made up of up to 12 members each year and has substantially impacted the community. Head Coach Anna Zelina has played a crucial role in developing the figure skating program. She has been figure skating with the Figure Skating Club of Erie since she was five years old. Like many, she fell in love with the sport and started competing when she was nine. She competed throughout high school and college, where
she competed for Penn State. Zelina is a very qualified and high-achieving coach with an impressive resume, including becoming a USFSA Double Gold Medalist.
She described the opportunity to join Mercyhurst, saying, “In 2019, I was given the opportunity to help start the Figure Skating Program at Mercyhurst. So,
I basically came full circle from being a collegiate skater to now coaching a collegiate program!” Zelina continues to coach the program and provides free practices and lessons weekly to team members to help them grow. The figure skating club has been around for a short period, but it has not stopped them
from attending local competitions and hosting events. The most recent event that the Lakers put together was a challenging task, being a part of the USFSA Intercollegiate Competitive Program. Mercyhurst was one of only three schools selected to host the National Qualifiers and was able to host the Southeast Region by partnering with the Erie Sports Commission. The event was held at Mercyhurst Ice Center on March 25-26, comprising fifteen teams and about 185 skaters competing. “This competition was important because we were the last regular season competition before Intercollegiate Finals (hosted at UCLA this year), so a lot of teams were trying to scoop up any last-minute points to qualify for the Finals,” said Zelina. Individually, the Mercyhurst Figure Skating team has shown
impressive growth in just a short time as a program. “Our team, myself and our Club Sports Director Allison Brace, worked endlessly to ensure this event went smoothly in all facets,” Zelina said. “I am so proud of our team for not only having a great season and working up the ranks this year but accomplishing a successful event of this size! Some teams our size wouldn’t even consider a task of this magnitude. It shows that if you put your mind to it, you can
accomplish anything, no matter how big or small.” For Coach Zelina, figure skating has shown how much hard work can get you no matter what. Junior Hospitality Management major Veronica Kibbe, joined the Figure Skating team her freshman year. “I am so glad that I joined the team when I first started here at Mercyhurst,” Kibbe said. “It has provided me the opportunity to continue a hobby that I love during and has introduced me to so many new people.” The sport of figure skating started many years ago and eventually prospered because of two ambitious young talents who had to work to get it recognized on a world stage.
The same can be applied to Mercyhurst as students, almost five years ago, made a significant impact on our athletic community by advocating for the addition of a figure skating club. The figure skating club has an excellent opportunity to embrace the precision and traditions of an exceptional international sport with so much history and class. If you are interested in joining the figure skating team, reach out to Zelina.