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Great Skaters: Sonja Henie

Updated on August 29, 2014

Madge Syers

In the early 1900s, figure skating was a means of emancipation of women.

In the era when women were required to demonstrate their Victorian modesty in public, figure skating provided them with rare opportunities in which they could undo their girdles, and flaunted what women could do as good as men - skating.

In 1902 World Championships Madge Syers realized that there wasn't a particular rule that prevented women to compete in men's competitions. Syers entered the competition, and the ISU, surprisingly and admirably, recognized Syers' argument valid. Syers won the World Championships in 1906 and 1907, and won the first Olympic gold medal in ladies figure skating in 1908.

But in those days there wasn't a strict requirement for women to display jumps or other skills as men did.

Sonja Henie: the first power skater

In 1928, Sonja Henie won the Olympic gold. But it's the beginning of Henie's career. Henie went on to win two more Olympic gold medals in 1932 and 1936. Henie's record has not been challenged so far.

No skater has dominated the sport as Henie did. Henie was immensely popular and successful in her off ice career especially as a movie star.

In her 10 year tenure, Henie ruled the sport. People were mesmerized by her vivacious spirit on ice and dancing charisma exuding from her fashion and choreography.

Henie was a cultural icon with her short skirt on ice that was considered as revolutionary to her contemporary. Henie's success and business instinct helped the figure skating evolve to a public sport rather than social elite's excursion.

Henie was the first woman who turned the figure skating into a grandeur ice show, commercially as well as theatrically. As a successful business woman, Henie died in 1969 at age fifty seven.

Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie: The first power skater

Sonja Henie is the first power skater in ladies figure skating. Although Henie was physiologically far from the image of power, her skating was of extraordinary power.

Speed and control in Henie's skating at the time was unprecedented.

Power skater is a skater whose skating merit largely lies in strength and speed.

In compulsory time, weight can be an asset for skaters. Although that does not automatically mean they excel in edgework, it certainly provides them with stability and balance on ice.

Dorothy Hamill, Midori Ito, Tonya Harding, etc are typical power skaters whose weight and strength stood out among their peers.

As opposed to power skating, there are lyrical skaters. The original vision of ladies figure skating was founded on lyrical aesthetics. Naturally lyricism was the most dominant form of ladies figure skaters and still is.

It's because ladies figure skating as opposed to men's can be best represented by femininity.

Especially since Peggy Fleming who set the stylistic model of ladies figure skating in the late 1960s, lyrical skating was the most popular form of ladies figure skating. The tradition is still alive.

The legendary skaters in the 1970s, such as Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn, and Dorothy Hamill are all lyrical skaters.

Lyricism focuses on lines and extensions.

Style of Skaters

Power skaters
Lyrical Skaters
Technical Skaters
Sonja Henie
Peggy Fleming
Elaine Zayak
Dorothy Hamill
Janet Lynn
Trixie Shuba
Debbi Thomas
Linda Fratianne
Michelle Kwan
Tonya Harding
Barbara Ann
Christi Yamaguchi
Midori Ito
Alissa Czisny
Katarina Witt

Stylistic variance in skating

Skaters' styles are mostly inherent rather than consciously acquired. Each skater's physiological features often determine the style.

In general, power skaters tend to use their weight to advantage. Their skating is characterized by strength and speed. But skaters often have more than one style; for example, Dorothy Hamill was a power skater as well as a lyrical skater.

Technical skaters are strong in competition. They tend to excel in competition components while lyrical skaters predominantly show lyricism throughout the skating.

Lyrical skaters, often tall, slender and flexible in body type, distinguish themselves through aesthetic moves on ice.

Which style of skater do you think Yuna Kim is?

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Which style of skater do you think Denise Biellmann?

See results

Who do you think is the most stylistically similar to Sonja Henie?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Why is Yuna Kim not here?


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