Jumping In The Olden Days

Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine

The 2022 Olympic men's competition is now one for the (history) books! If you're a sucker for a quality quad or a good old fashioned triple Axel, no doubt you were jumping for joy while cheering on the world's best in Beijing. 

In the twenty-first century, figure skating is all about the jumps, whether one likes it or not. The number of times a skater rotates in the air is paramount to their competitive success and with an influx of new fans and "stans" to the sport since the IJS system has been introduced, many aficionados can't always wrap their heads around a time when jumping really wasn't considered an integral part of figure skating. 

One of the first references to jumping on skates can be found in Jean Garcin's 1813 book "Le Vrai Patineur". Monsieur Garcin describes a three jump he called the 'Le Saut de Zéphyre', which was considered a "brilliant and perilous" novelty at the time. 

Skaters in Victorian England and Scotland seemed to be of two minds about jumping in the nineteenth century. The Edinburgh Skating Club's admission 'trial' required a candidate to "skate a complete circle on either foot, and then [jump] over first one hat, then two, and then three; each on top of the other." In 1874, T. Maxwell Witham and Henry Eugene Vandervell's popular book "System Of Figure Skating" stated that "jumping in skates... seems a perilous feat at first, but it is not really so. We recommend all skaters learn it, not on account its elegance (although, by the by, one of the writers is acquainted with an old skater who likes a jump at the turn of the 3, and who was kind enough to tell him that his skating would be much improved by its introduction: it was his hobby, and to humour him he did it once or twice to show that there was no particular difficulty in it), for it is ugly in the extreme. We are, of course, speaking of a jump completely off the ice of any height the skater can attain to. The Dutch, we believe, do three feet easily. It is most useful in enabling us to clear the obstacles that are frequently met on the ice." Though Witham and Vandervell viewed jumping as a useful way of avoiding say, a clump of reeds sticking out of outdoor ice, it wasn't a part of English Style figure skating. If skaters made the slightest of hop when executing a mohawk or choctaw, it was considered bad form. Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams was clear in his belief that, "Good skaters often make their turns a means of gaining pace, although they are careful not to reveal this by indulging in anything of the nature of a jump."

Nadja Franck, Rudolf Sundgren (middle) and unidentified skater. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande.

When Norway's Axel Paulsen performed his namesake jump one-and-a-half rotation jump in the Great International Skating Tournament of 1882 in Vienna he was applauded wildly by the crowd, but finished only third. Twelve years later when the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb in Sweden published a history of their skating club, the author skeptically mused on how Rudolf Sundgren once danced a beautiful mazurka on the ice and could jump "over a couple of garden sofas... but does anyone think he got the first prize for it? It would not surprise me if Mr. Prize Judge had never been on the ice for a day."

In their famous 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise", Demeter Diamantidi, Carl von Korper Marienwerth and Max Wirth praised a jump they called the 'Ueberspringen'. It was a half-rotation jump in the air from a right forward outside edge to a left backward edge that we know today as the waltz jump. The fact that three of the most influential members of the Wiener Eislaufverein not only included a jump in a book on figure skating but mused on the possibilities of jumping on skates really spoke to how different the attitudes of the Viennese School were to the English Style of skating.

E.T. Goodrich

In North America, serious 'fancy' skaters were more seemingly more interested in performing ringlets, grapevines and intricate figures than being airborne. Jumping was largely considered 'trick skating' - the realm of speedsters who tried to clear barrels and chairs. In March of 1893, Johnny Nilsson won a contest for the long jump on skates in Minneapolis, clearing over seventeen feet in his leap. One of the first American figure skaters of note to perform a jump on the ice was a professional, E.T. Goodrich. He did a 'spread-eagle jump' in the 1860's where he "commenced by obtaining full speed by the 'plain forward movement', striking into a 'spread eagle,' and, while in this position, going at this rapid rate, he springs clear from the ice and makes a complete revolution while in the air, and, alighting upon the ice with his feet in precisely the same position, continuing the 'spread eagle' slide." Goodrich's feat was described in William H. Bishop (Frank Swift) and Marvin R. Clark's "The Skater's Textbook", published in 1868... some fourteen years before Axel Paulsen did his Axel in Vienna.

It wasn't really until the start of the twentieth century, when a parade of talented Scandinavian skaters like Ulrich Salchow and Per Thorén started leaving the ice in their free skating programs, that jumping (pardon the pun) really took off. 

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 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.