Guidance From The Greats: Advice From Madge And Edgar Syers

Together, British figure skating power couple Edgar and Madge Syers were the pairs bronze medallists at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, England. Without the accompaniment of her husband, Madge was a two time World Champion and an Olympic Gold Medallist in singles skating. Both were also, of course, important pioneers in both the movement to adopt the International Style of skating in Great Britain. In "The Book Of Winter Sports", both Edgar and Madge offered some charming advice to skaters that I just couldn't resist sharing with all of you. From advocating a pescetarian diet to their views on free skating and costuming, I think you will find their turn of the century views on skating quite fascinating!


Edgar: "The training necessary for skaters, though not so arduous as that for some other forms of sport, must still be carefully attended to; the intending competitor must be in good general condition, he must carry no superfluous flesh, his legs must be strong and flexible, and his whole body supple. In order to get the muscles and joints into condition, light gymnastic exercises without appliances should be taken regularly twice a day for a month before skating commences. The time devoted to actual practice should not exceed two hours a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, all the compulsory figures required should be systematically worked at on each occasion, and the free skating programme gone through once, or twice if possible, in the presence of a competent critic... When practising remember that the mere mechanical repetition of a figure a certain number of times will never lead to success, it is to the exiguous exercise of the mind that so much inferior skating must be attributed; no considerable progress can be attained unless intelligence and reflection direct the skater's efforts, the why and the wherefore must be thought out."


Madge: "The important question of dress should be carefully considered: 'Chaque sport a son costume' and how inappropriate on the ice are flowing skirts and garden party hats? Such garments indicate immediately the incapacity of the wearer, for no skater would handicap herself with such impediments. The inconvenience of a skirt may be much lessened if it is made short and rather narrow (about three and a half yards); it should be of fairly thick material, cut so that the folds stand well away from the figure, and be weighted with a stitched band, or close fur. It is impossible to take part in athletic exercises with comfort except in loose garments, and no one who is tightly laced, or wears a heavily boned corset, will ever learn to skate. The waist must be free, so that the muscles of the back may have play, and the body be easily rotated from the hips; falls are rendered dangerous, and health inevitably suffers, from the wearing of a tight corset, while the evil results are often unfairly attributed to the exercise, instead of to the folly of the individual."


Edgar on diet and health: "As regards diet, no particular restrictions are imposed; indeed, many skaters are endowed with somewhat abnormal appetites, the result of regular and constant exercise in dry, cold air. A considerable amount of food is probably necessary, as skating reduces weight rapidly, but speaking from experience we find that abstention from all flesh food, save fish, has a most beneficial effect in every way. Smoking and drinking in moderation are admissible; some red wine or light beer may be taken at meals, early hours and plenty of sleep are most important factors in training."


Edgar: "Free skating, as an item of a competition, or as an exhibition, must be studied as an actor studies his part, with appropriate gesture, and must be varied, both as to time and motif; the figures should be as attractive as possible, the skater must avoid inserting any of those contained in the compulsory list, and aim at introducing novel combinations and tours de force."

Madge: "The question as to which are the most attractive items for a free programme is a somewhat difficult one; dance steps should always form a considerable part, and it is well to remember that if any particularly difficult figures are to be included they should be introduced before the muscles become fatigued, for though to the onlooker four or five minutes' free skating, when demonstrated by an expert, may seem, from its very excellence, an effortless proceeding, it is in
reality very hard work, and is a good test of the condition of the skater. The novice is invariably
impetuous and scrambles from one figure to another in a breathless state of hurry; to avoid this the
music chosen should be a march or waltz in which the time is well marked. The experienced skater
will, while moving fast, never give the impression of haste, she will take each step in time remembering that however good the marks on the ice may be a careless carriage or ungraceful movements will mar the effect, and, in a competition, be recorded against her."


Madge: "Do not assume an agonised or anxious expression when skating, look as if you enjoyed it, look up and about you, remember that the exhibition is not in the nature of a tragedy."

I have to say, I just love that last one and can only speculate what Madge would have thought of some of the Russian ice dancers we would see on Olympic podiums decades later! Just as these quotes remind us of how much skating has changed, they serve as reminders of a simpler time when skaters simply didn't have that much to go on. It can't have been easy.

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