#Unearthed: The Crystal Ball

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.

This month's 'buried treasures' require us to scry into an imaginary crystal ball to see the future from the past. With an open mind, we consider two alternate futures that skaters from decades past envisioned for the figure skating world. Provided by Sandra Bezic and shared with the permission of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, both of these pieces first appeared in "Skating" magazine. The first, a poem by Jane Maletz called "Nineteen Skatey-Four", was written in 1968 and imagines what skating would be like in 1984. The second, an article by Dr. Irwin J. Polk called "1991: Skating Odyssey", is a prediction penned in 1972 of what a regional skating competition in the U.S. would be like 1991. These prophecies may not have turned out to be entirely accurate, but how they foretold technology - cell phones, computerized scoring, instant replay - is just plain eerie. If you try to look at these writings through the eyes of the authors at the time they wrote them, there's almost a spooky element to them .


Right next door to the psychedelicatessan
Across from the nuclear pizzeria
There's a futuristic, flipped out ice rink
                                                  just think
Of a minute's wait
   on an escalate-
or, heading straight for
heated bleachers with rocking chair seats
each in reach
of its own thermostat!
(No more sittin'
wearin' mittens)
And as your rocking toasting toes
switch on very
ampliphonic armchair earphones.

Down below on coloured ice
Chicks will sport the shortest sort
of paper shift
Tossing minis after use
                       in refuse.

Skating moms who gush with love
Will pamper precious progeny
And pros can rant and rave full time
Cajoling small celebrities
Using teensy walky-talkits
Carried in a skater's pocket!

Zippy jet skates will have 4 speed blade traction
And dual lift thrusts for rocket jump action.

Tots who find their trousers thinning
From mixing up their 'sits' and 'spinning'
Will fit well polished derrieres
Into inflatable underwear
To cushion each flop with an ounce
                                           of bounce!

Wearing a flexible plastic belt
To special cameras sensitized
You'll skate
           and rate
A sharp-eyed lens
trained on each curve of your swoops and bends.

Time lapse cold pills swallowed just once
Will take away the itch to sniff
At patch
or catch-ing
judges smudges,
A runny nose
Won't impose.

The population will explode-
A relocation
Under ocean
And folks will skate on flippered feet
When Lutzing under briny deep.

And think
of a shrink-ing
at worst
in a minute's
You'll trot
To the spot
of games that include
Olympics skated on the moon!
The Mars World Champions feature a crew
Of three legged cheesemen of delicate hue
Their green bodies flash
past the chartreuse spectators
On ice that's the shade
Of an unripe tomater.

Imagine the Kilian changed
                               to arrange
The three legged contortions
Of ice dancing Martians!

Or Saturn plant people
Nasturtium and Rose
Gliding on leaves
To the Viennese...

The scene will be groovy-
There's no debate
You may hold your partner's antennae to skate.

But be not beguiled
Though the future be wild
Ye old FSA
Will be there all the way
scoring the stroking of jet propelled eights!

Kelly Colman and Commander Robot in the 1969 Ice Follies tour. Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.


A Brief Note To Cynics:

According to author Polk, his conceptualization of future techniques in skating has a firm basis in reality. He states, 'Should you think this article too fanciful, let me suggest to you that this procedure has already been tested in part of Canada. According to my knowledge, several years ago taped presentations were used for grading."

Scene: 1991. New York City. A Regional Competition.

The first skater moves onto the ice to do her compulsory figures. She skates over to the referee who asks her to select her ice and put down the first figure. He smiles at her and reminds her that the figure is number 28 A, the RFOI-LFIO change double three.

The room is completely silent as the competitor begins and, little wonder, for she and the referee are the only ones in the room. There are no judges visible anywhere nor any audience.

The skater selects her ice. As she does so, the judge checks the light fixed to the front and back of each skate as well as the signal light on the overhead television camera. When the skater is ready, the referee signifies that she lay out her figure. At the completion of the figure, she moves on to another patch of ice and lays out her next figure. At the completion of the test, she skates off the ice and goes about changing her equipment for the freestyle competition.

Meanwhile a computer is preparing her marks for the figures. This particular computer has been programmed to accept the patterns drawn for the television camera by the lights on the skater's boots. It judges each figure for size, shape, and symmetry. It credits extra points for improvement of faulty figures as well as adjusting for those parts of the figures which have been skated identically, while subtracting points for scatter in the tracings. This particular computer has been programmed to do this for all of the figures. The televised patterns are transmitted to the computer by telephone. This part of the service is the same as that which doctors use at the bedside to get instant, accurate readings of cardiograph tracings.

The computer is prepared to print out a numerical figure grade for each figure almost instantaneously. Comparing the tracing that the skater made with standards in its memory, the computer prints a numerical grade from 001 to 999. However, to conserve computer time, all the TV tapes for the competition are saved until the end and fed into the computer. Within minutes, a typewritten listing is presented at the rinkside. Only those skaters whose figures return grades which are better than preassigned levels are permitted to go on to the freestyle competition.

Freestyle competition is much the same as it was back in the 1970's. The panel of judges grades the contestants as they always have. But now the judges have help from the ever-present television camera. A tape is made for each skater, and where the competition is close, the judges can use the tape for instant replay, even in slow motion. They can check and re-check the flow of each skater as well as the synchronism of the skating and the program music which has also been recorded. Slow motion helps to detect imperfect jumps and turns. Finally, at the end of the computer-assisted judging, a winner is selected more easily than in the past.

Should any question arise in the future, the tapes of both the figures and the freestyle are available in the USFSA library for replay. In this fashion, the development of the skaters over the years is followed. New technique can be developed by observing the way various skaters do their jumps.

Teaching will also have benefited from the use of electronic techniques. The pros all have available a library of programs and figures to study. They have access to a gold mine of recent skating history.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is to the skaters. They take to the ice secure in the knowledge that the impartial computer is judging the figures and that, win, lose or draw, they have the best judging that modern society and technology can provide.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.