“In the United States, some people have the misconception that figure skating is a sport for girls.” – Jason Brown
Brown is partially correct – U.S. Figure Skating’s athlete and fan demographics in their media guide certainly suggest that a majority of figure skaters and fans are female.
Their fact sheet explains that U.S. Figure Skating membership reached more than 184,200 in the 2016-17 season, across 750 clubs. A quarter of their membership is male. Of that group, the three-quarters are between the ages of 0 and 12 years, with just 8 percent in the 13-18 age group. The remaining participants are split between groups aged 19-49 years (12 percent) and 50-plus years (4 percent).
Behind the glorious gold medal performances… are years of hard work, sweat, and tears.
Boys registering in U.S. Figure Skating increases year-to-year as their overall membership grows, mostly at a constant 25 percent of the overall membership.
For 2016-17, U.S. Figure Skating posted its third-largest membership contingent in the organization’s 96-year history. The season trailed only 2005-06 and 2006-07.
The fact sheet details that fans of the figure skating are even more divided: 84 percent female vs. 16 percent male.
But none of that means that figure skaters aren’t athletes.
Long-time Canadian broadcaster Ted Barton summed it up best in an interview with NBCOlympics.com: “Football players don’t have to run down the field looking good. They don’t have to smile. They’re not doing music. They’re not turning steps. Just get to the frickin’ end zone! But here, our athletes have to do things between the difficult elements. And it has to be to music. And it has to be connected with a character. And it has to, and it has to, and the list goes on. That’s what makes the sport so difficult. But for a viewer, it just looks nice, so it doesn’t look difficult.”
We asked the athletes what the biggest misconceptions are about their sport. Here is what they had to say:
Vincent Zhou, 2018 U.S. Olympian and 2017 world junior champion:
“Figure skating involves blisters, bruises, cuts, and serious injuries, just like every other sport. It is by no means a simple dance routine across the ice. People seem to think of figure skaters as graceful dancers who glide around on the ice doing dainty split jumps and cool tricks and spins. In competitions, people see jumps that good skaters make seem easy. The truth behind all of that, however, is hours of training every day, on the ice and off the ice, injuries, the pressure of competitions causing major stress, and the constant workload of school. This is true of many sports—behind the glorious gold medal performances or lucky winning shots are years of hard work, sweat, and tears.”
Danny O’Shea, 2016 national pairs champion with Tarah Kayne
“That it is a bunch of pretty boys that twirl around in tights. These ‘pretty boys’ are tough. Our bodies take a beating daily. We are real athletes that are strong. We have to complete four turns in the air in a matter of milliseconds and still manage to land on one foot and make it look good. It’s a lot tougher than most people think.”
Chris Knierim, 2018 U.S. Olympian and 2015 pairs national champion with now-wife Alexa Scimeca Knierim
“A common misconception about our sport is that all male figure skaters are all gay.”
Evan Bates, 2018 U.S. Olympian and 2015 ice dance national champion with partner Madison Chock
“There are assumptions that figure skating is a sport for girls, and that boys are out of place in figure skates. I think the athleticism and demanding nature of figure skating is often overlooked because good skaters are so graceful and make it look easy.”
“It’s one of those things in figure skating, like, a male figure skater at a young age is sorta like a unicorn. Like, there aren’t a lot of us. When I was nine I started doing ice dance and starting skating with a girl. Which for a nine-year-old, ten-year-old boy is extremely awkward and frightening. But when you get a little older and you’re in high school and you realize the hockey team is coming to watch the figure skating practice, but they’re not there to see me, necessarily. They’re there to see my partner and all the other beautiful girls that are on the ice. So, that’s not why I figure skate. But it’s certainly an added perk, if you will.”