ISU to explore smaller team sizes for synchro

ISU Communication 2085 speaks to decisions made during a recent Council meeting held in Helsinki, Finland, including the following comments on synchro:

“…the Council agreed that the ISU Synchronized Skating Technical Committee shall be mandated to conduct during the season 2017/18 tests at 4 International Competitions with teams composed of a lower number of Skaters than currently in place (less than 16).

Furthermore, in line with Rule 800.2.d) of the Synchronized Skating Special Regulations, the Council agreed that the Synchronized Skating competitions at the Winter Universiade 2019, the Synchronized Skating teams may be composed of 16 competing Skaters as per the current Rule in place, but also may be composed of 12 competing Skaters only.” (Section 9, pp. 3-4)

I’m of two minds on the possibility of shrinking teams to fewer than 16 skaters at the International level. On the one hand, I get a bit sad each time team size is reduced because it always removes synchro one more step from the sport I fell in love with over 25 years ago. On the other, there’s simply no denying the quality of skating is leaps and bounds above where it was then, and that is in large part due to a smaller number of skaters on the ice. This is evolution, and as the sport gets even faster and riskier, a move to fewer than 16 skaters may ultimately be beneficial. Some of the top teams in the world are already skating with so much speed, power, and excellent ice coverage that they just about burst through the boards. Imagine what they could do with just a little more room out there if you took a few more skaters out of the equation.

Other obvious advantages include the opportunity for smaller countries to increase their participation if fewer skaters are required on the ice, and that tantalizing Olympic carrot, which has remained out of reach in part due to the number of athletes synchro would add to the Games. An obvious disadvantage is an assumed increase in cost for skaters if fewer people are sharing expenses, which could still block increased participation from smaller nations.

I see the value in exploring the impact of shrinking teams from 16 to as low as 12, for the reasons stated above. What would make me very uneasy, however, is moving to team sizes any smaller than that. With 12 skaters on the ice, the math works out such that shapes and configurations can still be interesting and pleasing. (There are obviously still more limitations than when teams had 20, 24, or 32 skaters, but the requirements of the sport were also very different then.) But having fewer than 12 skaters on the ice is severely limiting (we see it at the developmental levels in Canada, where teams are permitted to compete with as few as eight skaters). If instituted as the norm, I fear shapes would be abandoned entirely, and we’d simply be watching something like group dance or group pairs rather than synchronized skating as a discipline unto itself.

The results of the tests will be interesting. The trials could be a resounding success, a total flop, or somewhere in the middle. The ISU may end up keeping 16 as the required number, changing it to 12, allowing teams the flexibility to skate with a number in between, or taking a different path altogether. In any case, I’m pleased to see due diligence is being done before decisions are finalized, and look forward to seeing what comes of it.

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