The most important championships are the Olympic Games and the World, European and Four Continents Championships. The Grand Prix Series consists of 6 senior international events, including Skate Canada (first staged in 1973).
Figure skating is a sport for solo skaters and couples, in which style and technical skill are tested. Competition is conducted in single skating for men and women, pairs skating and ice dancing. Single skaters are judged on a short program and a free program. Pairs perform in short program and free-skating sections. Ice dancers demonstrate skill in compulsory dances, original dance and free skating, with no jumps, spins or lifts above the waist. International competition in figure skating is organized by the International Skating Union, founded in 1892.
The most important championships are the Olympic Games and the World, European and Four Continents Championships. The Grand Prix Series consists of 6 senior international events, including Skate Canada (first staged in 1973). Skaters earn points at 2 of the Grand Prix events to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. The North American Championships (last held in 1971) were also a top-ranked event. In the World Championships and Olympic Games, the number of entries is determined by results at the previous World Championships, with a maximum of 3 entries per nation for each event.
Figure skating received its name from the prescribed precision patterns, or figures, that were a required component of competitions until the early 1990s. The sport began to evolve after 1742, when the Edinburgh Skating Club was established. In the 1880s the centre of the activity became St Moritz, Switzerland, where skaters from Great Britain developed more figures and established a graduated system of figure tests. Meanwhile, free skating - a more theatrical approach that incorporated elements of dance with jumps and spins - was being promoted by the "Viennese" school. Jackson Haines, an American ballet master, introduced music to the ice in the 1860s, producing the style that became free skating.
Organized ice dancing dates from the 1880s in Vienna, and the waltz was danced on ice in Halifax as early as 1885. The first official world championship in figure skating for men was held in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1896. Separate women's championships began in 1906, with pairs starting 2 years later. Ice dancing was added to the World Championships in 1952.
In Canada, what was then called "fancy" skating began to develop a strong following in the 1860s, in part inspired by Haines, who toured eastern and central Canada in 1864. Exhibitions were staged at the opening of new rinks, and gala balls and carnivals were frequently held at the Victoria Rink in Montréal. F. Perkins, of Toronto, was the leading skater of this period and won the Gold Medal of Canada in 1867. That same year, the Montreal Skating Club offered a championship cup for amateurs, "open to the world."
The most important Canadian figure skater in the late 1800s was Louis Rubenstein, who won the unofficial world championship in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1890. He also won the United States amateur title in 1885 and 1889. George Meagher of Montréal won an open competition in 1891 that was claimed as the world championship. Figure skating grew in popularity during the next decades, and in 1903 the Minto prizes were presented by Governor General Lord Minto to encourage the development of skilful performance in figures.
In 1914, figure skating was recognized as a separate sport, distinct from speed skating, with the formation of the Figure Skating Department of Canada as a section of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada. Louis Rubenstein was the first president, and the membership consisted of the Minto Skating Club of Ottawa and the Earl Grey Skating Club of Montréal. In 1939 the department became the Canadian Figure Skating Association, which became autonomous in 1951 with direct affiliation to the International Skating Union.
The Canadian Figure Skating Association (CFSA), the association responsible for amateur figure skating in Canada, is the largest of its kind in the world. From 2 clubs in 1914, it grew to a membership of 360 in 1967 and 1410 in 1986. There were 185 000 skaters registered with affiliated clubs in 1998. The CFSA offers programs for skaters of all ages and skill levels, including CANSKATE (the learn-to-skate program), CANPOWERSKATE and CANPRECISIONSKATE, as well as Test and Competitive programs. Only skaters registered with a CFSA-affiliated club may try official tests. The CFSA also operates courses for amateur and professional coaches. In 2000, the members of the Canadian Figure Skating Association voted to change the name to Skate Canada.
Although figure skating had been included in the Olympic Games since 1908, Canadians did not participate until 1924, when the first Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France. Cecil Smith and Melville Rogers were Canada's first participants. Smith was also the first woman to represent Canada in any Olympic event, and when she placed 2nd in the 1930 women's World Championships, she became the first Canadian woman to earn a top position in international figure-skating competition.
In 1932, the World Championships were held in Canada for the first time (in Montréal), and the Canadian skaters Montgomery Wilson and Constance Wilson-Samuel placed 2nd and 3rd respectively in their singles events. That same year, Wilson won the bronze medal in the Olympic Games at Lake Placid. He was Canadian men's champion 8 times between 1929 and 1939.
After WWII, Barbara Ann Scott of Ottawa established Canada as an important figure-skating nation. She won her first Canadian title in 1944 at age 15, and was such an excellent skater that in 1947 she became world champion in her first attempt at overseas competition. In 1948 she won the Canadian, US, European and World Championships as well as the Olympic gold medal. In 1948, the Olympic bronze medal win by Suzanne Morrow and Wallace Diestelmeyer began an era of outstanding pairs combinations from Canada. Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden won the World Championship in 1954 and 1955, and placed 2nd in the 1956 Olympics.
Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul won their first of 4 consecutive pairs world titles in 1957; in 1960 they became the first non-European pair to win the Olympic title. Maria and Otto Jelinek followed with a 1962 World Championship win, and Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell placed 2nd in the 1964 Olympics. In the late 1970s, Canadian junior pairs made excellent showings in the Junior World Championships. Outstanding Canadian singles men skaters include Donald Jackson, who placed 3rd in the 1960 Olympics and won the 1962 World Championships, and Donald McPherson, who won the 1963 world title.
The 1970s were dominated by the innovative skater Toller Cranston, Canadian champion from 1971 to 1976. He won the free-skating segment of the World Championship 4 times and was awarded the bronze medal in the 1976 Olympics. A number of women skaters have also gained international recognition. Wendy Griner placed 2nd in the 1962 World Championships, the same year that a young Petra Burka demonstrated her potential by executing a triple salchow - the first by a woman in competition. Burka placed 3rd in the 1964 Olympics, and the following year won the World Championship. In the early 1970s, after overcoming stress fractures in both legs, Karen Magnussen placed 2nd in the 1972 Olympics and won the 1973 world title.
In the 1980s, Canadian skaters were again among the world's best. In 1984, Barbara Underhill of Oshawa, Ontario, and Paul Martini of Woodbridge, Ontario, culminated a long career by winning the pairs World Championship in Ottawa. Brian Orser of Belleville, Ontario, holder of the Canadian senior title from 1981 to 1988, placed 3rd in the World Championship in 1983, followed by 3 years in 2nd place and a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games. Then, in 1987, he won the world title, the first competitor to complete 2 triple axels successfully in one program. In 1988, Canadians produced medals in 3 of the 4 skating disciplines at the Olympics in Calgary. Orser won his 2nd consecutive Olympic silver. Elizabeth Manley won the women's silver and, in ice dancing, Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall won the bronze. All 3 performances were repeated at the 1988 Worlds.
Kurt Browning, who executed the first quadruple jump in competition, replaced Orser as Canadian champion in 1989 and then won 3 consecutive World Championships before winning the silver in 1992, with Elvis Stojko also winning the bronze medal. The only Canadian skaters able to finish in the medals at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville were Lloyd Eisler and Isabelle Brasseur, who took the bronze in pairs. Eisler and Brasseur also gained silver medals at both the 1990 and 1991 World Championships and a bronze at the 1992 Worlds. The 1993 World Championships were Canada's most successful ever. Eisler and Brasseur won the gold in pairs and Browning and Stojko staged a thrilling duel for the men's title, with Browning winning his 4th championship and Stojko placing 2nd.
Elvis Stojko captured 3 world titles between 1994 and 1997, and an Olympic silver medal in 1998 at Nagano. Ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz won 3 bronze medals at the 1996, 1997 and 1998 World Championships. They placed a controversial 4th in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. In 2000, Stojko won a silver medal at the World Championships. The pairs team of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier dominated world competition in 2001 by winning all 4 of the major competitions, including the World Championships in Vancouver.
The 2002 Olympics at Salt Lake were memorable for Canadian figures skaters. The controversy surrounding pairs team Jamie Salé and David Pelletier's loss to the Russian pairs team, Elena Bereznaya and Anton Sikharulidze, was dubbed "Skategate" and appeared at first to be another black mark on the sport, preceded by the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 at Lillehammer and the controversy surrounding judging at the ice dancing competition at Nagano in 1998. However, in the days that followed, media exposure of a possible judging scandal in the pairs event raised Salé and Pelletier to superstar status and garnered them worldwide support. Four days after the initial awarding of the medals, the International Skating Union, pressured by the International Olympic Committee to act quickly, found the French judge Marie-Reine le Gougne guilty of fraudulent judging, an act that may have prevented Salé and Pelletier from winning the gold medal many felt they deserved. As a result, double gold medals were awarded to both pairs teams at a special ceremony held after the ice dancing competition. Shortly after being awarded their Olympic gold medals, Salé and Pelletier announced that they would not defend their world title at Nagano, Japan, in March 2002.
Salt Lake also marked the last Olympic competition for long-time competitors Elvis Stojko and the dance team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. The medal favourite, Emanual Sandhu, withdrew shortly before competition due to a knee injury, leaving Stojko as the sole male to represent Canada. He placed 8th overall. A fall by Kraatz at the conclusion of their long program dropped Bourne and Kraatz out of medal contention, and they placed 4th overall. Although Canada's Jennifer Robinson placed 7th and out of the medals, the women's competition offered much excitement for figure skating fans and further redeemed the sport for many who felt the judging to be dishonest. American long-shot Sarah Hughes placed ahead of long-time favourite Michelle Kwan and won the gold medal. Kwan won bronze behind Irina Slutskaya of Russia.
Since Salé and Pelletier's gold medal in 2002 Canada has continued to have some success at the world level. In 2003 Bourne and Kraatz won the ice dance gold medal at the World Championships, a first for any North American pair. In 2006 Canada placed in the medals at the Torino Olympics when men's skater Jeffrey Buttle won bronze, and young skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the first-ever Canadian gold medal at the World Junior Championships that year. In 2008, Buttle's success continued when he won the 2008 World Championship title, the first Canadian man since Elvis Stojko in 1997 to win the event.
Canada reached a milestone in ice dancing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. On 22 Feb, skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold medal, the youngest-ever Olympic winners in the sport. After outstanding scores in the compulsory and original dances, the pair was favoured to win a spot on the podium. They skated a personal best in the free dance, earning 110.42 points for a total of 221.57, and edging out their US training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White by a total of nearly 6 points. Theirs was Canada's first gold medal in ice dancing and the first-ever gold in the event for an ice dancing pair in North America. 2010 also marked the first time a Canadian woman reached the podium since Elizabeth Manley's silver medal win in 1988. Joannie Rochette, whose mother had died of a heart attack only days before the competition, skated an emotional performance in both the long and short programs to secure a bronze medal finish.
N. Brown, Ice Skating: A History (1959); B. Smith, Figure Skating: A Celebration (1999).