From Eight to Sixteen – The Story of a Synchronized Skating Team

Synchro skating isn’t about medals.

It’s about the memories.

Medals are a bonus though.

During the Arborg Skating Club‘s 1988/1989 season, our coach produced three successful synchronized (precision) skating teams. I was on the eight-member senior team, winning two silver medal. Two competitions, two silver medals. Not too shabby.

We won our second silver medal at the 1989 Interlake Winter Games in Arborg, Manitoba – our home club. Runners up to the St. Andrews Novice Precise-ettes, who were heading to the Canadian Precision Championships in Edmonton, Alberta at the end of March.

However, those winter games weren’t an advancer. Merely a trial run to gauge participation. The Winter Games were deemed a success, and Gimli, Manitoba would play host for the figure skating portion of the 1990 Interlake Winter Games. The advancer! The gold and silver medallists from each singles category and the gold medal synchro team would advance to the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games in Carmen, Manitoba.

Through the skating grapevine, our coach, Joanne Hough, heard while the St. Andrews Novice Precise-ettes were expected to win the 1990 Interlake Winter Games they were planning to pass the torch for Carmen to the silver medallists. According to the 1989/1990 rules, a team was prohibited from competing at the Manitoba Winter Games and the provincial championships in the same year. No doubt St. Andrews would rather compete for another ticket to the Canadians.

Ergo, we were aiming for that silver medal.

It wasn’t that simple. First challenge, the size of our team. We had eight members, half of us were sisters. I was part of that half. But, we thought the original eight would carry on through because the smallest team allowed at the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games was eight.

Our coach called a meeting, and she wanted the maximum amount – a 16-member team. Groups of four and four, gliding across the ice. An even block. Not a mash of eight doing a squishy waist-hold pinwheel. Hey, it looks cool with the head snap.

However, it wouldn’t be the so-called easy breezy 1988/1989 season.

In September 1989, before fall skating school, we were on two missions: finding eight skaters and choreographing the beginning of our program in the elementary school gymnasium. We recruited two skaters from our middle-age Arborg team, and another singles skater who wanted to join. One skater pulled double duty – skating on her former team and ours.

Actually, most of us pulled double duty. The majority of us skated synchro (precision) and singles. Somehow, our coach snagged ice time twice a week for us.

In the gym, while 11 of us sashayed to “The Doctor” by the Doobie Brothers, “Thru These Walls” by Phil Collins, and “Come Dancing” by The Kinks, we’d pitch names of skaters with previous synchro experience to Joanne.

Who wouldn’t want to compete at the Manitoba Winter Games? Yes, I’d already pre-punched my ticket to Carmen.

During fall school, we were still struggling to expand our team. Luckily, two former Arborg synchro skaters eagerly jumped on our team. However, our club was tapped out. We need more older skaters, preferably with experience.

A skater from Inwood joined our team. She had experience, plus Joanne was her coach. Okay, almost there. What did we think about approaching two skaters from Riverton?

And we were sixteen. But, there was another issue.

The 1989/1990 Arborg Junior Team with our coach, Joanne Hough.
Two team members are missing from this photo. I’m third from the left in the back row.

According to the rules for the Winter Games, members of the synchronized skating teams must be age seventeen or under. One of our skaters wouldn’t be able to compete at the Games because she’d be 18 years old. Plan B, of course, was the entire team would compete at the Manitoba Championships and the Interlake Regional Precision Competition.

If we didn’t make it to the Winter Games in Carmen.

But we were double silver-plated last season. Runners up to the St. Andrews Novice team at previous Interlake Winter Games. The unbeatable team. We were once eight, but now we were a powerful 16-member team. Why wouldn’t we win another silver?

Because life doesn’t happen as planned.

We didn’t win silver and advance to the 1990 Manitoba Winter Games. We won the bronze medal at the Interlake trials.

In fact, we almost didn’t medal after placing fourth in unexpected compulsories. Expected, but not the ones we’d be practicing. After our free program – despite two falls – we placed third and won the overall bronze.

When the results were announced, I believe I was the only team member who cheered, and one of my teammates looked so sad. One of our teammates won the overall bronze in singles, and I remember more about that medal ceremony than the synchronized skating’s presentation. On the upside, the medals looks the same as the 1990 Manitoba Winter Game medals. They’re heavier and larger than other medals. Like an Olympic medal.

That bronze pushed us though. Those Winter Games were in January, and our season was far from over. We worked hard. It wasn’t easy. There were tears, triple run-throughs, drills. And all worthwhile.

That February, we won the gold medal at provincials. And today – March 9, 1990 – marks 29 years since we won the 1990 Interlake Precision Regional Competition over the St. Andrews Novice Precise-ettes.

No one beats the St. Andrew Precise-ettes.

During the 1993 ice show – Aladdin on Ice – I skated an exhibition performance with the senior skaters and we reused some choreography from my Junior team’s 1989/1990 season. But nothing matches the excitement of competitive synchro.

I’m proud to be part of the legacy of the Arborg Precision Team. Our team skated for two seasons, and we never left a competition without hardware – amassing five medals. For two seasons, there were enough skaters to have three synchro teams.

Two seasons doesn’t sound like a long time, but in synchro years those memories last forever.