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North Hills Monthly

Steel City Blades Demonstrate Synchronized Skating Skills

Feb 28, 2018 05:01PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

By Marcie Barlow

Most of us have heard of synchronized swimming, but far fewer have heard of synchronized skating. So what exactly is it?

Synchronized skating is a team sport in which eight to 20 skaters perform a program together. It uses the same judging system as singles, pairs and dance, and is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences. As with the other disciplines, all teams perform a free skate with required well-balanced program elements. In addition, teams at the junior and senior levels perform a short program consisting of required elements.

The youngest of the figure skating disciplines, it was originally known as “precision skating,” with the first international synchronized skating competition taking place in Sweden in 1989. Seven nations were represented, and since that time the sport has grown in popularity worldwide. Russia has won the past two world titles as well as the 2017 World Junior title.

The Steel City Blades are the only Pittsburgh-area synchronized skating team, and they are based at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center (RMU ISC).

“The sport requires teamwork and combines elements of athleticism and artistry to provide the audience with an entertaining program that showcases the talents of the entire team,” said Elizabeth Sutton, skating director, RMU Island Sports Center.

The Blades are comprised of an Open Juvenile and a Pre-Juvenile team, and team members normally train two nights each week for three to four hours.  In addition, they often add additional practice sessions when preparing for competitions. Like many other athletes, these skaters also do off-ice training in areas such as dance and strength training.

Kaylee Pierce began her ice skating career at age 6 and began synchronized skating at age 9. Now 18, the Montour High School senior is competing in her final season with the Steel City Blades.

“My teammates are more like my sisters; we are on the ice as a team for five to six hours each week, so it’s only natural to form a strong bond with them,” Pierce said.

In addition to the hours that she puts in as a member of the team, Pierce also teaches four to six classes at the RMU ISC each week. “These 20 children are the future of our sport, and I am honored to assist them in their skating careers,” she said.

Natalie Sobel is a Mars resident who has been a member of the team for 6-1/2 years. Sobel begins her days with practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before heading off to her high school classes.  After school she heads to the RMU ISC for either synchronized skating or individual practice.

“Synchronized skating is a team sport, and it is also a great way to connect with others as well as an excellent way to express yourself through your facial expressions and body movement,” she said.

The season begins with a boot camp each August where the coaches showcase the new programs. “Most of us are in awe of just how intricate they are; it is amazing to see the progress that we make by the time we compete at the regionals in January,” said Sobel, adding that along with team practices, the skaters put in an additional two to three hours each week just working on the synchronized programs.

In addition to hard work, synchronized skating requires a substantial financial commitment from the competitors.  

“It costs team members several thousands of dollars just for the team skating fees,” said Sutton. “In addition, the skaters are enrolled in individual skating lessons so that they can continue to improve upon their mechanics. Each individual skater must also be tested on these skills just like singles and pairs skaters are.”

The Steel City Blades are run by the RMU ISC and its parent organization and represent the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club. The teams travel throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan as well as Lake Placid, NY, Boston, MA and Florida for competitions.

“Our senior team had two great skates at the Florida sectionals in January and placed second in the competition,” Sobel said. “This is quite an accomplishment for us and definitely validated that all of our hard work and practice paid off.”

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