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Here's How Much Figure Skating Has Changed In The Past 100 Years


Figure skating. You know it, you love it.


But when figure skating, first became a competitive sport in the late 1800s, only men participated. The first woman didn't compete until 1902, at the World Figure Skating Championships.

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Her name was Madge Syers, but because of ~social rules and regulations~ women weren't even allowed to compete at the Olympics until 1908. Syers ended up taking top honors that year.

And, skaters competed on outdoor rinks.

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Can you imagine watching skating competitions with a bunch of mountains as the backdrop? HOW PRETTY.

Plus, the outfits were a little different. Men used to skate in full suits. Check out that belt situation.

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This is Austrian figure skater Karl Schaefer during the 1936 Olympics.

And women's skirts used to be significantly longer. Check out these three medal winners at the 1924 winter Olympics.

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That's from left to right: Herma Planck-Szabo of Hungary, Ethel Muckelt of Britain, and Beatrix Loughran of the US. Women also wore hats while competing, which would definitely be frowned upon these days, considering you can be deducted points for having any part of your costume fall on the ice.

At first, figure skating was literally just that — competitors grinding out figure eights on the ice, attempting to create the clearest, most, precise pattern.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Figures were actually a major part of figure skating competitions until 1990, but often never aired because — as you might imagine — they were pretty damn boring to watch.

While figures were one part of the competition, artistry was another, and over the years, creating elegant, artistic routines became increasingly important. One of the main proponents of that was Norwegian skater Sonja Henie.

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Henie competed in her first games in 1924 when she was just 11 and was reportedly so nervous during her debut that she stopped halfway through, skated over to her coach, and asked him to remind her of the routine.

Henie won Olympic medals in 1928, 1932, and 1936, and an impressive 10 world titles. She's widely credited with infusing the sport with a more balletic and elegant approach.

Staff / AFP / Getty Images

This is her looking fly as hell in an all white Norwegian-flagged themed get up. She went on to become a Hollywood star, appearing in 13 films, many of them skating themed.

As you might have noticed, the sport's gotten progressively more difficult over the years.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Where perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, the most difficult jumps were double or triple axels, now athletes are trying for more and more complex feats.


This is a double axel, btw.

Here's skater Yuzuru Hanyu completing a quadruple toe loop at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.


This is a comprehensive chart explaining how skaters have increased the difficulty of their jumps over time. / Via Reuben Fischer-Baum

Some moves, like this INCREDIBLE backflip Surya Bonaly performed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, are considered illegal in competition.

NBC / Via Giphy

Bonaly actually completed the flip after falling earlier in her routine. Knowing that she was likely out of medal contention, she broke out into the spontaneous flip. Bonaly finished tenth overall.

So what can you expect when you tune in to this year's Olympic figure skating competitions?

General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

Probably more jumps, triple, and quadruple axels than ever before — though some skating experts wonder if we've reached peak difficulty in the sport. In a 2014 interview with the website Deadspin, 2002 bronze medalist Timonthy Goebel said, "I don't think it's maxed out yet, but we're getting close. I can't imagine someone going out and doing six or seven quads in a program. Physically, training-wise, injury-wise—I think it's a little bit beyond what people are capable of doing."

One who's definitely worth checking out: Nathan Chen, who's the first skater to complete FIVE quadruple jumps in one program.


Either way, we'll be watching!


For more Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics content, click here!

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