Skating, besides being an important form of winter recreation and the essential skill in the game of ice hockey (see hockey, ice) has developed into three different sports—speed skating, figure skating, and ice dancing. All three are now features of the Winter Olympic games.Speed Skating
In speed-skating events, racers may reach speeds as high as 30 mi (48 km) per hr. The Olympic races are around oval tracks at distances of 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters for men and 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meters for women. Short-track skating features skaters in massed starts circling a small indoor oval. In the Olympics men compete in 500-, 1,000-, and 1,500-meter events, with a 5,000-meters relay; the women's races are at similar distances except for the relay (3,000 meters).
Jackson Haines, an American, revolutionized figure skating in the 1860s, skating to music, bringing balletic movements to ice, and creating new ones. One of the most beautiful and graceful events in all sport, international figure skating requires skaters to perform a short program that includes mandatory jumps and skills, and then a longer program of free selection, both set to music. Judging is subjective and often controversial. Skaters also compete in pairs, seeking through the intricate synchronization of moves and the performance of lifts and jumps to impress the scoring judges.
Olympic gold medalist Sonja Henie did much to bring skating to wide public notice in the United States, and after she turned (1936) professional, the ice carnival became a popular American amusement. Since then traveling ice shows have continued to attract former Olympic skaters who have, since the 1970s, also competed in a series of professional competitions. In recent years, Americans have increasingly taken up competitive figure skating in the hope of repeating the successes of Olympic champions such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, and Sarah Hughes.