This thread was inspired by the ongoing discussion of Yu-na Kim’s influence and legacy. Together with Mao Asada, these are two of the finest athletes in the world. Going back a little ways, Katarina Witt won four world championships and two Olympic gold medals. Michelle Kwan gave us bucketsful of oohs and aahs.
But did any of these “change the sport” as much as Frank Zamboni? Or as much as the guy who built the first mechanically cooled indoor ice rink? (That would be John Gamgee, 1876 – very likely a descendant of Frodo’s faithful gardener, Sam Gamgee. )
Here is my short list.
1. Jackson Haines. Invented free skating – performing a choreographed program to music, punctuated by fancy spins and tricks. (He also invented a way of attaching the blade permanently to the boot, instead of strapping it on.)
Haines changed the sport from being a succession of stiff formal figures, turns and postures, to being flowing performance art.
2. Madge Syers. Entered the 1902 men’s world figure skating championship and won silver, forcing the ISU to establish women’s championships, starting in 1906. She won the first two ladies’ world championships and the first ladies’ Olympic gold medal (1908).
Syers changed the sport from being exclusively a man’s sport to being primarily a woman’s sport.
3. Sonia Henie. Besides her ten world championships and three Olympic gold medals, Henie glamorized the sport and took it to Hollywood.
She changed the sport from being a semi-popular participatory winter recreation to being big time show business.
4. Dick Button. Button invented the jump technique of “spinning in the air.” This technique made possible all subsequent triple and quadruple jumps, which came on the scene in rapid succession after the 1950s.
Button changed the sport from being a gliding/spinning contest to being the jumping contest that we know today.
5. Sonia Bianchetti. This high-ranking ISU official spearheaded (for better or for worse) the movement to do away with figures altogether. The last nail in the coffin came in 1990.
Bianchetti changed figure skating from being figure skating into being not figure skating. What could be a bigger change than that?
Comments? Who are your candidates?