1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Skating

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SKATING (Dutch schaats, a skate), a mode of progression on ice with the aid of appliances called skates, attached to the sole of the shoe by straps, clamps or screws. The earliest form of skate that we know is that of the bone “runners” (still preserved in museums) worn by the primitive Norsemen. These were bound to the foot with thongs. The Norse sagas speak with pride of the national achievements in skating, and the early development of the art was due principally to the Norsemen, Swedes, Danes, Finns and the Dutch. Whatever its origin in Great Britain, skating was certainly a common sport in England in the 12th century, as is proved by an old translation of Fitz-Steven's Description of London, published in 1180, in which the following words occur:—

“When the great fenne or moore (which watereth the walls of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play on the yce . . . asome tye bones to their feete and under their heeles, and shoving themselves with a little picked staffe do slide as swiftlie as a birde flyeth in the aire or an arrow out of a cross-bow.”

At what period the use of metal runners was introduced is unknown, but it was possibly not long after the introduction into northern Europe, in the 3rd century after Christ, of the art of working in iron. By the time of Charles II. skating had become popular, with the aristocracy as well as with the people, as is proved by entries in the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn.

Skating does not appear to have been known in America before its colonization by Europeans, though bone slides were used to a limited extent by certain Eskimo tribes.

The modern skate is in the form of a steel blade mounted upon a wood or metal base. In the old-fashioned skate the wooden base was strapped to the boot and kept firm by low spikes or screws that entered the sole. The next step in development was the “club-skate,” originally Canadian, a patent appliance adjusted by clamps to fit the sole. There are several varieties of club-skates still popular. They have a broad blade with slightly curved edge, and are more suitable for figure-skating than for speed. The best skaters now use skates fixed permanently to special skating-boots.

As in ancient times, skating is most practised by the Scandinavians, Finns, Dutch and British, to whom in modern days have been added the Germans, Swiss, Austrians, and especially the Canadians and Americans. All these nations have central organizations which control skating, the British, founded in 1879, being the National Skating Association. The American, founded in 1884, is also called the National Skating Association, and generally co-operates with the Canadian Amateur Skating Association, founded in 1888.

Speed Skating.—Of the earliest skating races no records have been kept. That racing was a popular pastime in Holland two centuries and longer ago is proved by the numerous paintings of the time depicting racing scenes. In England the first skating match recorded was that in which Youngs of Mepal beat Thomson of Wimblingdon, both men of the Fens, in the year 1814. The Fen country has remained the chief English home of skating, owing to the abundance of ice in that district, and most British champions have been Fensmen, notably the Smarts of Welney. In January 1823 the Sporting Magazine recorded the first amateur match, which was between teams of six gentlemen from March and Chatteris, Mr Drake of Chatteris finishing first. In the same year a match took place for a silver bowl on the Maze Lake, Hertfordshire, over a course 5 m. long, the winner being Mr Blenkinsop. Racing, more or less intermittent, continued annually, the Fen skaters generally triumphing. In 1854 appeared the celebrated William (“Turkey”) Smart, who, after defeating Larmen Register in that year, remained champion for more than a decade. His nephew George (“Fish”) Smart won the championship in 1878 and held it until 1889, only to relinquish it to his younger brother James. The first amateur championship of England was held in 1880 at Hendon, and was won by Mr F. Norman, a Fen skater.

Owing to the great area of Canada and the northern United States, and the long and cold winter, the sport of skating is indulged in to a greater extent in North America than anywhere else, and local matches have been held for years in many places. Owing to the reputation of Charles June, who was considered to be the best American skater from 1838 for many years, his place of residence, Newburgh, N.Y., on the Hudson river, became the headquarters of American speed skating. This city also is the birthplace of the Donoghue family, who may be called the Smarts of America. The most noted members of this family were Mr T. Donoghue and his two sons, Tim and J. F. Donoghue, each in his day the fastest skater in the world, Joseph Donoghue winning every event at the international championship meeting at Amsterdam in 1891. There is practically no professional skating in America.

Skating received a great impetus during the last decade of the 19th century, profiting both by the growing devotion of athletics and by increased facilities of communication, which led to international competitions and the institutions of skating clubs in Switzerland and elsewhere, especially those of Davos, St Moritz and Grindelwald, where ice is available every winter. Although skating instruments are so simple, the evolution of the skate has advanced considerably, contributing to marked improvement in the skater's skill. In speed-skating an epoch was marked, first, by the almost universal adoption of the Norwegian type of racing skate; and, secondly, by the institution in 1892, at an international congress held in Holland, of annual races for the championships of Europe and of the world.

The Norwegian skate, introduced and perfected (1887-1902) by Axel Paulsen and Harald Hagen, is constructed with a view to lightness, strength, and diminution of friction. The blade, of specially hardened steel, is set in a hollow horizontal tube of aluminium, and connected by similar vertical tubes with foot-plates riveted to a closely-fitting boot with thin leather sole. It is 16-17¾ in. long and ½-2 millimetres thick (i.e. .019-.078 in.), the average employed for hard ice being ¾ mm., often thinner towards the heel. This thickness is suitable for hard ice, but for softer ice 1/16 or 3/32 in. is preferable. The blade is flat on the ice throughout, except for an inch in front; this flatness distributes the weight, and with the extreme thinness of blade reduces friction to a minimum. The edges are right-angled and sharp.

The skater's style has been modified. The blade, when planted on the ice with weight upon it, describes a nearly straight line, the last few feet only curving slightly outwards as the skate leaves the ice. Hence the stroke of the best modern skaters is almost, if not entirely, on the inside edge, a gain in directness and speed, the outside edge being used for curves only. The length of stroke has tended to diminish. Contrasted with the 12-18 yards' stroke attributed to the old English champion, W. “Turkey” Smart, which was partly on the outside edge, the modern racing stroke rarely exceeds 10 yds., and is usually nearer 6 or 7. Particular instances vary with conditions of ice, &c., but at St Petersburg, in 1896, Eden's stroke in the 10,000 metre race averaged about 7½ yds., that of P. Oestlund at Davos, in 1900, the same (for one lap, 8 yds.). J. F. Donoghue's stride in 1891 was computed at about 6 yds. The general effect has been vastly increased speed, and a conjoint cause is the stricter training undergone before important races.

The races held annually since 1892-1893 for the championships of Europe and of the world, under the auspices of the International Skating Union, have assembled representatives from the skating countries of Europe and from America.

The races are four in number, over distances of 500, 1500, 5000 and 10,000 metres, and to obtain the title of champion a skater must win three races and finish in the fourth. In addition, each country, when possible, holds its own championship races.

In England races are still skated, with rare exceptions, on straight courses, with a sharp turn round a post or barrel, the distance prescribed for N.S.A. championships being 1½ m. with three turns. The Continental and international system involves a course with straight sides and curved ends of such a radius that no slackening of speed is necessary. In both instances the competitors race two at a time on a double track, and the time test is used. Each skater must keep his own course, to prevent either from using the other as pacemaker or wind-shield. The international regulations (Eiswettlauf-Ordnung) prescribe that, if a single track be used, the hindmost skater must keep at a minimum distance of 5 metres from the other, on pain of disqualification. The advantage of inner curve on a Continental course is given alternately, and a space left open between the tracks at one point for the skaters to cross.

The curves are skated with a step-over-step action, and the direction is always from right to left. Hence, on entering the curve the right foot is brought across in front and set down on the inside edge, the left passing behind on the outside edge, and being in its turn set down on an outside edge in front. The strokes thus form a series of tangents to the curve, and are little shorter than in the straight. With a radius of 25 and 30 metres, as at Davos, the curves can be skated with safety at full speed.

The following are the amateur speed records at the principal distances:

Distance. m. s. Name.  Nationality. 

500   metres  (546 yds.)
1,000  (1093 yds.)
1,500  (1639 yds.)
5,000  (3 m. 188 yds.)
 10,000  (6 m. 376 yds.) 
  44 4/5 
1 34
2 22 3/5 
 8 37 3/5 
17 50 3/5 
 R. Gundersen  Norway
 P. Oestlund
 P. Oestlund
 J. Eden Holland
 P. Oestlund Norway

The following times and distances have also been recorded in America:

 Distance.  h. m. s. Name.

 100 yds.
 2 36
 5 423/5
14 24
31 111/5
3 15 593/5
7 11 381/5
 J. S. Johnson
 ¼ m.  H. P. Mosher
 1 m.  J. Neilson
 2 m.  O. Rudd
 5 m.  O. Rudd
 10 m.  J. S. Johnson
 50 m.  J. F. Donoghue
 100 m.  J. F. Donoghue 

See contemporary records in the Field, Outing, and other sporting journals, as well as the annual almanacs; A Bibliography of Skating, by F. W. Foster (London, 1898); Skating, in the Badminton Library (1892); Skating, in the Oval Series (1897); “Skating,” article in the Encyclopaedia of Sport (1899); Skating, in the Isthmian Library (1901); Skating, by W. T. Richardson (New York, 1903).

Figure Skating.—This variety of skating, as subjected to definite rules, is quite modern, having originated in the 19th century, though the cutting of figures on the ice was regarded as an accomplishment by skaters long before.

Although the “Edinburgh Skating Club,” founded in 1642, is the oldest skating organization in Great Britain, the “Skating Club” of London, formed in 1830, is the most important, and for many years practically controlled figure skating. Many other important figure skating clubs now exist in Great Britain, for entrance into which a certain standard of proficiency is demanded. Figure skating championships are now held in many countries under the auspices of the national associations, the world's championship meeting being held by the International Skating Union. In England great impetus has been given to figure skating by the multiplication of clubs (e.g. Wimbledon, founded 1870, Thames Valley, Crystal Palace, &c.) in addition to the original “Skating Club” and those in Switzerland already mentioned; and from the construction of numerous artificial rinks, such as at Niagara and Prince's Club in London, as well as by the encouragement afforded by the National Skating Association, which offers 1st, 2nd and 3rd class badges (and a special or “Diamond” badge for figure skating) for figure tests as well as for speed; in 1893 the Association founded a “London Skating Council,” while in 1898 and in 1902 it held the figure skating championship of the world in London. In America comparatively little interest is shown in this branch of the sport.

In the British style of figure skating, which is not recognized by the International Skating Union, the body is held as nearly as possible upright, the employed leg is kept straight, the unemployed leg carried behind, the arms hang loosely at the sides, and the head is turned in the direction of progress. In the so-called Anglo-Swiss style, affected by British skaters trained at Davos and St Moritz, the upright, almost rigid position is insisted on, even the unemployed leg being held straight. Much more latitude is allowed by the Continental school, though no definite rules of form have been laid down. The knee of the employed leg is slightly bent, and the unemployed leg is in constant action, being used to balance the body during the execution of the figures. The Continental is less difficult in execution than the British style, but its movements are less graceful. There are, of course, local modifications, the strictest exponents of the English school being the Davos and St Moritz skaters, while the Continental varies from the complete abandon of the French to the more restrained style of the Germans; Canadians cultivate also grape-vines and other two-footed figures. The essential features are, however, identical. Thus Englishmen consider of secondary importance loops, cross-cuts, continuous and hand-in-hand skating, though such figures are included in the 1st class test of the N.S.A., and devote themselves mainly to “combined figures.” Combined figures have been defined as “symmetrical execution of a figure by one or more pairs of skaters.” Originally known as the “skating club figures,” they have been gradually developed, and in 1891 delegates from the principal clubs established a regular terminology. The ideal number of skaters for a combined figure is four, though sixes and eights are seen, one being chosen “caller” of the movement to be skated. Various sets of “calls” are arranged at the discretion of different clubs, and consist ordinarily of “turns” and “changes.” The N.S.A. offer a challenge shield for an annual competition in combined figure skating. There has, however, been a marked tendency towards unification of style, through Englishmen adopting Continental methods, rendered almost a necessity by the circumscribed area of artificial rinks. In 1901 the Figure Skating Club was established for this purpose, and its members attained such success that an English lady, Mrs Syers, gained the second place in the world's championship competition in 1902, and with her husband won the International Pair Skating in that year, and again in 1904; and in 1906 she won the ladies' amateur championship of the world, established in that year.

The World's Figure Skating Championship was won in 1896 by Fuchs, Austria; 1897, G. Hügel, Austria; 1898, H. Grenander, Sweden; 1899 and 1900, G. Hügel, Austria; 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, U. Salchow, Sweden. The competition consists of two parts, (a) compulsory figures, (b) free skating, the latter affording scope for the performance of dance steps and brilliant individual figures, such as the “sitting pirouette,” and the “star,” consisting of four crosses (forward rocker, back loop, back counter), invented by Herr Engelmann and splendidly rendered by Herr Salchow.

The skates used for the English and Continental styles are shorter than those used for speed-skating, and differ in radius, though both are of the same type, i.e. a blade fastened to the boot by sole-plates, the “Mount Charles” pattern being the one generally adopted by Englishmen. The English radius is 7 ft., or now more usually 6 ft.; the foreign, 5½ or even 5 ft., and the result is seen in the larger curves skated on the former, and the greater pace obtained owing to decreased friction; at the same time, the difficulty of making a turn is greater. The English skate has generally right-angled edges and blade of same thickness throughout, except in the “Dowler” variety, which is thicker towards the extremities. The foreign skate is sometimes thicker in the middle than at the ends.

See Skating, in the Badminton Library (1892); Skating, in the Oval Series (1897); A System of Figure-Skating, by T. Maxwell Witham (5th ed., 1897); On the Outside Edge, by G. H. Fowler (1897); Combined Figure-Skating, by George Wood (1899); “Skating,” in the Encyclopaedia of Sport (1899); Handbook of Figure-Skating, by G. H. Brown (Springfield, Mass., 1900); Lessons in Skating, by G. A. Meagher (1900); Figure-Skating, by M. S. Monier-Williams, in the Isthmian Library (1901); How to become a Skater, by G. D. Phillips, in Spalding's Athletic Library, New York. See also Roller-Skating.