Pair Skating and Ice Dancing

At this month's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, U.S.A., some of the most spectacular action will take place on the indoor ice rink. Sports fans who are turned off by the sometimes brutal intensity of ice hockey can tune in to the gentler figure skating competition.

Gold medals are awarded in four categories of Olympic figure skating. Two medals go to the winners of the male and female individual events. The other two are awarded to mixed pairs. Within this group, there are two separate events for pair figure skating: pair skating and ice dancing. 

In pair skating, a couple performs a program of movements in harmony. They add a number of combined spins and spectacular lifts. Ice dancers, in contrast, are not allowed to perform the athletic moves of pair skaters, and the couple rarely separates. Instead, they perform dances such as tangos and waltzes, and they must interpret the rhythm of the music. 

Figure skating was one of the events at the very first Winter Olympics in 1924. Before that, figure skaters had competed at the Summer Games as early as 1908. Ice dancing is a relatively new addition to the Games, making its debut at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. 

The use of skates as a means of transportation in cold northern regions of the world began in prehistoric times. Ice-skating as a sport, however, originated in Holland. From there, it spread to the rest of northern Europe and North America. The world's first ice-skating club was formed in Edinburgh, Scotland, sometime around the end of the seventeenth century. 

Though ice-skating is a highly technical activity, it is easy to appreciate. Millions of people around the world enjoy watching the harmonious movements of a skating couple even if they don't know the names of the particular spins or jumps being used. They are simply attracted by the graceful beauty of this highly entertaining sport.  by Martin Kelly