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20 Best Female Figure Skaters of All Time
Over 110 year history, figure skating as a sport has evolved dramatically. The evolution has been so great that some even doubts whether "figure skating" is really "figure skating", because no skaters today compete for compulsory figures, after which the sport was named. During its long but gradual evolution, stars rose to fame that would be remembered for many years while some forgotten, but all left unforgettable legacies behind.
Madge Syers: First giant of Pre-class Figure Skating
Born in 1881, Syers, whose real name is Florence Madeline Syers, competed in the 1902 Worlds and won a silver medal. What made this British figure skater so special was that no one at the time thought figure skating competition is for ladies. Syers' entry to all-men's events was by itself sensational, but Syers beat all odds to take silver. Syers' success prompted the ISU to introduce ladies competitions. Not surprisingly, Syers won the first two ladies' events in 1906 as well as 1907, and also grabbed a gold medal in the 1908 Olympics, which was the first Olympic figure skating gold in history.
Born in 1890, Lily Kronberger was a four time World Champion from 1908 to 1911. She was also the first figure skater who won a world championship gold for Hungary and the first skater who used music in free program for the first time in history.
Herma Szabo: Champion in Pre-classic Figure Skating
Born in 1902, Herma Szabo was a five time World Champion in ladies singles from 1922 to 1926 and won in the 1924 Olympics. This Vienna born figure skater, especially, is credited for her wearing a skirt cut above the knee for the first time in history while Sonja Henie is usually known for her wearing short skirts for the first time in competition. Szabo won all major international competitions she entered from 1922 to 1926. As Szabo's five consecutive World titles in ladies' figure skating from 1922 to 1926 testifies, she was one of four women in history who won the World title five times - Sonja Henie, Carol Heiss, and Michelle Kwan. Szabo also competed in pairs figure skating and won the World title twice, in 1925 and 1927, which made her the only skater to hold titles for pairs and singles simultaneously.
Sonja Henie : Greatest of Pre-classic Figure Skating
Born in 1912, Sonja Henie was one of the most influential figure skaters of all time. This Norwegian star skater was a three time Olympic Champion in Ladies Figure Skating, a six-time European Champion and a ten- time World Champion in 1927 through 1936. No skater has dominated the sport as Henie did. Henie's three Olympic gold medals is now considered as untouchable. In her 10 long year tenure, Henie ruled the sport like an immortal queen of ice, immensely popular and successful even in her off ice career. Henie was also one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood.
Barbara Ann Scott: First ice princess
Born in 1928, Barbara Ann Scott was a two-time World Champion, a four-time Canadian Champion and won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympics. As her public nick name "Canada's Sweetheart" indicates Scott was an iconic figure. From 1944 to 1948, Scott won all international competitions she had entered. She was the only Canadian to have won a gold medal in Olympic ladies singles, and, like Sonja Henie, Scott was also a sought-out star in various off-ice shows.
Tenley Albright: Pioneer of Classic Figure Skating
Tenley Albright was born in 1935. Albright was a two time World champion for 1953 and 1955 and a U.S. champion from 1952 to 1956. She won silver medal in the 1952 Olympics, and in 1956 she finally became the first American female skater to win an Olympic gold medal. Free skating as we know it today wasn't possible without Albright. Her brilliant free skating was something no one could imitate at the time. Her mastery of free skating was simply incomparable at the time. Even Carol Heiss, one of the greatest champions of all time, always looked up to Albright. Tenley Albright was a skater who presented free skating as a coordinated performance.
Carol Heiss: Greatest champion in Classic Figure Skating
Heiss's career is one of the most competitive figure skaters of all time. Born in 1940, Heiss was a five-time World Champion from 1956 to 1960 and won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, following the footstep of her predecessor Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic Champion. Heiss became famous as she at the age of 11 won U.S. Novice Ladies' Championship. What set her apart from other champions was her complete dominance throughout her career. She never allowed her competitors to dampen her spirit. From 1956 to 1960, Heiss won all competitions she had entered. As a matter of fact, Heiss's dominance could have been longer, if she had overcome Tenley Albright. From 1953 to 1956, Heiss finished behind Albright in all major international competitions including the 1956 Olympics where Heiss took silver behind Albright. It was in the 1956 Worlds that Heiss finally beat Albright for the first time. Thereafter, Heiss became one of three women to have won five consecutive World Championships. Heiss, known as being technically superior to her contemporary, became the first female skater that landed a double axel in1953.
Peggy Fleming: Epitome of Classic Figure Skating
Born in 1948, Peggy Fleming was a household name for ladies figure skating in the 1960s, still is today and perhaps will remain so as long as Ladies Figure Skating endures. Fleming was a gold medalist in the 1967 Olympics as well as a three time World Champion from 1966 to 1968. Fleming was only 9 year old when she first took to ice. In 1961, when she was 12, she lost her skating coach, Bill Kipp, to a plane crash in which the entire U.S. figure skating team perished. Fleming, the then junior skater who was considered by many as the only hope for U.S. ladies figure skating, quickly rose to her own legacy by winning five U.S. titles and three world titles in addition to her decisive victory in the 1968 Winter Olympics. Peggy Fleming not only presented a complete vision of Classic Figure Skating but also lay a classic model for Modern Figure Skating with her aestheticism. Especially, Fleming's skating brought to the sport a new awakening to line and extension that had never been seen before.
Janet Lynn : Founder of Modern Figure Skating
Janet Lynn is a figure of mythical intrigue in the history of figure skating. Born in 1953, this Chicago born skater never won a single major international competition. Lynn was a two-time worlds medalist and a five-time U.S. Champion and won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics. However, her failure to clinch a major title due to her weak compulsory performances, made many question the validity of competition format at the time that consists of 60% of compulsory and 40% of free skating. With Lynn's skating, people began to realize that such a format is not just too incompetent to reflect figure skating as a whole, but seriously defective. Anyone could tell that Lynn was far superior a skater to her peers. Lynn's skating career started as early as 4, when she made her first public skating performance. At 13, Lynn landed triple salchow jumps which female skaters at the time rarely attempted. Lynn's technical brilliance didn't stop at jumping technique. Lynn's greatness lies with her control mechanism that made her ethereal skating possible as well as her figure skating philosophy on which Lynn persistently pursued throughout her career, which made an unimpeachable case for Lynn.
Dorothy Hamill : The one and only skater
Born in 1956, Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics and also won the 1976 Worlds. Like her predecessor Janet Lynn, Hamill was also from Chicago, Illinois. Hamill started skating at 8. From 1974 to 1976 Hamill reigned as a U.S. Champion but she didn't dominate international competitions the way Peggy Fleming did. In the 1974 Worlds Hamill finished second to Christine Errath from East Germany, and in the following year, Hamill again settled with silver. However, Hamill's shortcoming had more to do with judging incompetence and international politics. Hamill, judged correctly, should have swept all competitions. In the 1976 Worlds, Hamill finally won the long-due gold medal.
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Linda Fratianne: First triple jumper
Linda Fratianne, perhaps one of the most underrated skaters in history, was the first female skater who landed two different types of triple jumps, toe loop and salchow in 1976. Born in 1960, Linda Fratianne was a U.S. Champion in 1977 to 1980 and won gold in the 1977 Worlds and silver in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Fratianne, too, like her predecessors Fleming, Lynn or Hamill, could have dominated her time; however, Fratianne balked at compulsories as well as international politics. In 1980, Fratianne appeared to have reserved an Olympic gold for U.S., but she ended up behind Annet Pötzsch. Many thought that Fratianne was "robbed" of the gold medal by Eastern-bloc judges.
Linda Fratianne in 1977
Denise Biellmann: Sensation in the 1980s
Born in 1962, Denise Biellmann was a sensation in the fledgling Modern Figure Skating. This three time Swiss National Champion won the 1981 Worlds and European Championships.Denise Biellmann was an exceptional prodigy early on. At 11, she won the Swiss junior figure skating championships,and at 14, she finished second in free skating in the 1977 European Championships. At 15, Biellmann again competed in the 1978 European Championships and became the first female skater to land triple lutz. Biellmann won free skating after receiving a 6.0 on technical merits and finished fourth overall. Like those legendary skaters before her, Denise Biellmann too was weak in compulsories. In the 1980 Olympics, Biellmann won the free skating but finished fourth overall. Although Biellmann today is mostly remembered by her innovative move called Biellman spin, Biellmann wasn't just a skater of outstanding flexibility; she was the best free skater in her time with incredible technical agility.
Denise Biellmann in 1981
Elaine Zayak in 1982
Elaine Zayak: Master jumper the ISU feared
Born in 1965, Elaine Zayak won the 1982 Worlds, and that's the only major international title she has. In the 1982 Worlds Zayak landed six triple jumps, four of which were triple toe loops. Zayak was the first female skater who landed triples consistently, which prompted the ISU to enact what would later be known as Zayak Rule in which skaters are not allowed to repeat same triples. Since 1982, Zayak, whose jumping ability seemed far superior to her peers, didn't win any title, mainly due to Zayak Rule as well as her poor compulsories. Zayak was certainly an extraordinary skater, but Peggy Fleming wasn't ready to give her nod to Zayak. The ISU too thought that it's necessary to hold off the wave of jumping beans. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that she was an unstoppable force in her time, and she was unjustly penalized.
Katarina Witt: Iron skater in the 1980s.
Born in 1965, Witt was a four time Worlds Champion, a six time European Champion from 1983 to 1988 and won two Olympic golds in 1984 and 1988. This East Germany born sensation beat the then reigning World Champion Rosalynn Sumners though the winning margin was very small. Although Witt was one of the most successful skaters of all time in competition, she was constantly challenged by her potent rivals, Debi Thomas, Elizabeth Manley, Rosalyn Sumners, etc.
Midori Ito: Power jumper in the 1980s.
Born in 1969, Midori Ito was the 1989 World champion and won the 1992 Olympic silver. This nine time Japanese National champion was also the first skater who landed a triple-triple jump combination and a triple axel in competition. Ito also became the first woman to land seven triple jumps in a free skating competition in 1988. Ito, who started skating at the age of 4, reportedly landed her first triple jump at 8. In her senior debut in 1983, Ito finished second to Katarina Witt, who would win in a few months later her first Olympic gold. Ito earned five 6.0s in the 1989 Worlds where she became the first Asian skater who had ever taken a World title. Like many great skaters prior to Ito, Ito was also weak in compulsories. But Ito had no rival for jump. No skater has ever left a greater impact to the sport like Ito. Simply, the world had never before witnessed more powerful and more dominant a jumper than Ito. Ito's jumping ability even surpassed male skaters. Scott Hamilton once said "It will be 50 years before we see anything like Midori Ito again."
Midori Ito in 1989
Oksana Baiul in 1993
Oksana Baiul: Best in the 1990s.
Born in 1977, Oksana Baiul was the 1993 World champion as well as the 1994 Olympic champion. Baiul, who had finished second to Surya Bonaly in the 1993 European Championships, won the 1993 Worlds at the age of just 15. In 1994 Olympics, Baiul won a gold medal, this time having out-skated Nancy Kerrigan and Chen Lu. Although Baiul was only 16 year old that year, this Unkrainian genius decided to retire, mainly due to her financial difficulty. Despite her being the first Unkrainian skater to win an Olympic gold as well as the first Ukrainian Olympic champion for Ukrainia, Baiul didn't receive any financial support from her country. Baiul's reign was short, but Baiul's skating testifies what had been missing in ladies figure skating in her days when skaters were busy throwing triples without due qualities and figure skating judging wasn't particularly help skaters learn properly all the skills to make them well-rounded.
Michelle Kwan: Champion of the 1990s
Born in 1980, Michelle Kwan is arguably the most decorated U.S. figure skater. Kwan was a five-time World Champion and a nine-time U.S. Champion. Kwan's tenure stretched over a decade, during which time Kwan remained not only as America's most popular figure skater but as one of America's most popular female athletes. Kwan won eight consecutive U.S. titles and also twelve consecutive U.S. Championship medals. She has also received 57 perfect marks under 6.0 system. However, Kwan didn't win Olympic gold despite she was a favorite to win. In both 1998 and 2002, she ended up with silver. Kwan was the most successful skater since Katarina Witt.
Tara Lipinski: One of greatest prodigies
Born in 1982, Tara Lipinski is the 1997 World champion and the 1998 Olympic champion. Lipinski is the youngest person(14 years, 9 months and 10 days) who ever won a World title and the youngest person (15 years, 8 months, and 10 days) who won Olympic gold in ladies singles until 2014 when Julia Lipnitskaya became the youngest Olympic gold medalist in ladies figure skating, six days younger than Lipinski. In the 1997 U.S. Nationals, Lipinski also became the youngest person to win the title at 14. Throughout her rivalry with Michelle Kwan, Lipinski didn't necessarily overcome Kwan, but her victory over Michelle Kwan in the 1988 Olympics was a testament of what she is made of as a figure skater.
Irina Slutskaya: Strongest in the 1990s
Born in 1979, Irina Slutskaya is arguably the most successful ladies' singles skater in Russian history. Slutskaya was a two-time World champion and a seven-time European champion and a four time Russian champion. Slutskaya's rivalry with Michelle Kwan continued for over a decade, during which time Slutskaya challenged the best skaters of her time, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipniski, Chen Lu, etc. In the 1992 Olympics, Slutskaya could have won an Olympic gold, had she won free skating, but judges declared Hughes' victory in free skating with a 5–4 decision. This made Russia filed a complaint against the result. In 2001, Slutskaya won all competitions she entered except the Worlds. In this particular season Slutskaya met Kwan five times and defeated Kwan five times. But it was in 2002 that Slutskaya finally captured her first World title.
Yuna Kim: Greatest in triple era
Born in 1990, Yuna Kim is the latest legend of ladies singles and arguably the greatest of all time. Kim won the 2010 Olympic champion, a two time World champion and a six time South Korean champion. Kim is also largely regarded as the legitimate champion of the 2014 Sochi Olympics where the judging panel was alleged to inflate scores in favor of Adelina Sotnikova. Kim is the first female skater to win four major competitions: Olympics, Worlds, Four Continents, and Grand Prix Final. More importantly, Kim had never finished a competition off the podium during her entire career, which was unprecedented in the history of figure skating. Kim owned the podium. Kim made her senior debut through the 2006 Skate Canada and won bronze. It was, however, in 2009 that she finally won her first World title. In the following year, Kim won the Olympic gold to become the first figure skater to win any Olympic medal for South Korea.