China gets in Sync: Meet the Ice Pearls

Photo : www.isu.org
www.isu.org|13-Jul-2019 10:36

Last season, the Ice Pearls launched themselves into the Synchronized Skating scene. Based in Harbin, China, they became the first senior team from China to compete at an ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. The group now looks to continue elevating their exposure during the 2020 season—both as a team and for China—on the international stage.

Who are the Ice Pearls?
City: Harbin, China

Coach: Xi Hongyan (1984 Olympic Ice Dance competitor)

Event Advisor: Feng Huang

Team Manager: Jiang Hongbo

Average age of skaters: 19.5

2019/2020 events: 2019 Shanghai Trophy and the National Championships

The first ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships were held in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA) in 2000, with the sole Asian entry hailing from Japan. The sport has grown immensely in complexity and competitiveness over the last 19 years, with the point gap diminishing between the top ten teams from 85.27 points in 2005 to 63.20 points in 2019. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the World Championships, there have been several high profile opportunities for global exposure of the sport, including the 2016 ISU Shanghai Trophy.

The Shanghai Trophy is the first multidiscipline event of its kind to be held in China. Both Short Track Speed Skating and six Synchronized Skating teams participated.

In the lead up, Beijing-based C-star Junior formed with a group of six Skaters in August 2015. By September, their roster was full and they went on to compete at the Spring Cup (65.56 total points) and perform a showcase in Shanghai.

“After the 2016 Shanghai Trophy, there were more Skaters and clubs interested in Synchronized Skating,” said Feng Huang, an event advisor at the Chinese Figure Skating Association (CFSA). “There are 12 Chinese novice teams competing at the 2019 [Chinese] National Youth Olympic Games in Taiyuan, Shanxi, and potentially more at the lower level as well. Many teams formed in 2016 and 2017.”

In 2019, the Ice Pearls were one of 24 teams, representing 20 nations, to participate at the 2019 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. Within an hour of releasing tickets to the public in October 2018, the Helsinki Ice Hall was sold out.

In Synchronized Skating, it’s not uncommon to see an ice dancer join a team, but rarely do you see individuals participating from other elite sports. In the case of the Ice Pearls, they faced this exact unique challenge when several of their Skaters moved from Speed Skating to Synchronized Skating.

When asked if the former Speed Skaters seek out extra ice time to ease the adjustment, team manager Jiang Hongbo said the Skaters have worked diligently to close the skill gap and ensure everyone is on the same page.

“Compared with other Skaters, [the Speed Skaters] spend an additional hour training their spins and steps,” Hongbo said. “[They had to] change their posture, from bending to upright. They [previously] turned left only and are now learning to turn right, they are adjusting to the length of the blade and learning how to cross over backwards.”

Last season the team primarily focused on ice training, with up to six hours a day from Monday to Friday and two hours on weekends.

“We needed a lot of ice training time, as this was our first time taking part at a World Championship,” said Hongbo.

Their summer schedule is now once a week for two hours. While working within the limits of their reduced ice time, Hongbo says, “the team has increased their off-ice, physical and dance training.” The goal is to ramp up the intensity and ice time as they get closer to competing at the 2019 Shanghai Trophy.

In 2017, the Finnish Synchronized Skating Academy (FSSA) collaborated with the Chinese company, Wisdom Sport. With the support of the FSSA, Synchronized Skating was introduced to several Chinese schools as part of their sports programming.

The Finnish-Chinese connection is partly a result of Finland’s long history of success within the sport of Synchronized Skating. Finnish teams have collectively earned nine ISU World Championships titles and 25 World medals—at least one at every ISU World Championships (except two)—since the year 2000.

Laura Spiridovitsh, a former Helsinki Rockettes team member and two-time World Champion took on a consulting role in the initial stages of the program.

“On my first trip to Beijing, I worked with six different schools over the course of a week,” said Spiridovitsh. “They’re really hard working and their attitude reflects that ‘everything is possible,’ enabling them to develop their skills quickly in Synchro and other sports as well. After Synchronized Skating was declined from the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the schools have shifted their focus to other sports that already have the Olympic status.”

Despite this news, Spiridovitsh has seen many positive results from the program, including the general growth of the sport in China and its’ future Olympic prospects.

“Synchronized Skating has been growing really fast in Beijing and there are a lot of Skaters in the Beijing area,” Spiridovitsh said. “The last time I visited, I was told that the Synchronized Skating program would be a part of the opening ceremony at the 2022 Olympics. The idea was to choreograph many young Synchronized Skating teams [so that they could go on] to introduce the sport to a worldwide audience.”

Reflecting on her own involvement in the sport, Spiridovitsh said that Synchronized Skating taught her “how to work hard to reach personal and team goals, how to push myself and cheer for other Skaters to reach the next level as an athlete and a person.” The goal is now to instill these skills in the young athletes she works with.

“Synchronized Skating as a sport is one of the best teachers of life, at least for me it has been,” said Spiridovitsh. “As a coach my goal is to help my Skaters to become great athletes and Skaters, as well as strong team workers and individuals who believe that they are able to reach whatever goals they might have in life.”