Synchronized skating proves to be challenge for both body and mind (with video)
COLONIE Coach Wayne Hussey’s mouth is moving, and his figure skates are gliding gracefully along the ice, but somehow his demonstration isn’t registering with me.
My somewhat clammy mitt clutches onto the petit hand of 13-year-old Catherine Amodeo, who occasionally nods to the directions echoing throughout the Albany County Ice Rink. But in my case, Hussey might as well be speaking Swahili and demonstrating the finer points of stone sculpting.
“Pump, pump, crossover, Mohawk,” he says in a calm voice, demonstrating the exact movements I’ll need to replicate while formed in a circle with more than a dozen teenage synchronized skaters.
“Mohawk?” I query softly.
And so stops the Achilles Edge Synchonized Skating Team’s practice, as Hussey briefly describes and demonstrates the somewhat complex figure skating turn. I try to mimic the move with my Graf hockey skates, but somehow it doesn’t seem nearly fluid.
The coach and team seem pleased with my seeming acknowledgement, and the practice resumes. Pretty soon, we’re in a circle at center ice, whirling around counterclockwise and attempting to synchronize our foot movements to the pounding beats of Lady Gaga.
I hear one of the girls counting in time with the song and see her staring toward her right as we all start skating backwards in a circle. Her skates are moving in perfect time with her teammate’s skates, which is in stark contrast to my clumsy, out-of-rhythm movements, which seem to elongate what might have otherwise been a perfect circle.
The circle starts to pick up speed, and pretty soon I’m starting to get dizzy. My grip starts to slip, and then suddenly the circle is no more.
Hussey and fellow coach Stephanie Hunter applaud my novice effort, but there’s no mistaking who is the weakest link in this chain.
This is what is known as ‘synchro’ for short. It’s a sport that interjects an strong element of teamwork into the trained discipline of figure skating.
Teams can be as small as eight or as large as 20. At higher levels, the routines transpire at dazzling speeds and appear fluid in their motions.
Movements are precise and one out-of-synch skater can mean the difference between first and last place. And that’s part of the draw of the sport, explains 17-year-old Emma Briceland, a veteran of seven years with the team.
“We skate as a team, and we’re all in it together,” she says. “We all have to work together or it’s not going to work at all.”
Achilles Edge ended its season in March with a good deal of acclaim. They scored a first-place finish at the Empire State Winter Games in the open juvenile class and performed admirably enough to advance to the intermediate level when they resume in November.
The skaters are between the ages of 11 and 17. Most are girls, but several boys round out the team, which is part of the Albany Figure Skating Club.
They all have to understand and utilize the fundamentals of figure skating. Individual ability is important, despite synchronized skating being a quintessential team sport.
“Even though they skate as a team, they have to have their individual skating up to par to keep up,” Hussey says during warmups.
Once limber, the skaters break into the various formations they utilize during their choreographed performances. These include circles, intersections, pinwheels, blocks, full lines and pivoting full lines.
Hussey isn’t bashful about throwing me into the mix with his skaters, even though I briefly explain my dearth of figure-skating knowledge. After all, I don’t even watch figure skating during the Olympics, much less practice it in my spare time.
Hockey has been the sport I’ve played since youth, and it’s certainly a world away from figure skating. Skating is certainly a critical part of the game, but not to the extent that a coach will try to time your strides to the tune of booming hip-hop music.
The pinwheel is the first experiment Hussey puts me up to. This formation has three lines of skaters who join at a focal point at center ice and rotate in synch together, creating a pinwheel effect.
My movements are out of synch with the girls on either side of me, but not enough to disrupt the pinwheel. I grimace a little and crack a joke about hockey players not being too graceful.
“No, you had Grace,” he says, gesturing to 12-year-old Grace DiRisio, my hand still clutching her small shoulder.
Later, Hussey and Hunter try to get me into the full line formation. The skaters are joined at the shoulder, moving in a straight line and performing a choreography of footwork, including the dreaded mohawk and a series of pumps.
Or was that crossovers? Again, I’m the weakest link, which gives Hunter a friendly chuckle.
“So the idea is to do it all in a straight line and all the moves at the same time,” she says, keenly aware of my bewilderment. “Welcome to synchro.”