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Shea ice built for figure skaters

July 19, 2019
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - White, black or unpainted - which ice color is best to skate on?

Frequent visitors to the 1932 Jack Shea Arena in Lake Placid's Olympic Center might notice something different these days. While the rink still boasts skaters of all ages and abilities participating in the Lake Placid Summer Skating program, the ice they are skating on has a distinctly different look.

This summer, the rink's ice was not painted white, as is usually done in most rinks. Instead, the ice is more translucent, giving a more "natural" look as viewers can see the concrete under the ice surface.

Article Photos

The unpainted ice in the 1932 Jack Shea Arena is a change from the usual ice that is painted white. The unpainted ice is more figure-skater friendly, helping athletes improve technique by seeing the patterns etched onto the surface.
Photo courtesy of World Figure Sport Society

Obviously, this is more dramatic, but it also serves more than an aesthetic purpose: It can help skaters better see the edges their blades make on the darker surface.

Since the 1932 Rink is only used for figure skating - no hockey - during the summer, it makes sense to not paint the ice the brilliant white most skating fans are accustomed to. As noted in the book "The Red Kelly Story" by eight-time Stanley Cup winner Leonard "Red" Kelly, the practice of painting the ice white for hockey started in 1949, when the National Hockey League Board of Directors decided to artificially paint the ice surface white for their televised games so the camera lens could more easily see the puck.

Since then, it has become a modern practice for hockey rinks to paint their rinks white, which is certainly not necessary for figure skating practice. Since hockey is often given precedence in other rinks, however, this practice has prevailed.

In the 1930s and 1940s, figure skaters were more creative with their ice in the 1932 Arena. While it was not painted white, various patterns were often painted in the ice for shows, making the ice a dramatic extra bit of scenery in the productions.

Olympic Center General Manager Terry Buczkowski said the decision to not paint the ice this year was meant to better serve figure skaters and honor the previous ice precedent in the arena.

"The way I understood it, years back for figure skating it was not painted to better highlight the tracings on the ice," he said. "From a figure skating perspective, it's better for the ice to be more transparent to be as close to natural ice as possible, and this will benefit the figure skating program. We are trying to accommodate all aspects of skating in the arena as best we can, whether it's figure, hockey or speed skating."

For some, the ice's appearance might draw comparisons to the Lussi Rink, which was previously the fourth rink in the Olympic Center complex before the new Conference Center was built. In addition to unpainted ice, it was smaller, boasted full-length mirrors on one wall and was without the hockey boards found in traditional ice rinks. The existing boards were only a few inches high, painted red and with numbers and letters to help skaters organize and identify their "patch" where they would practice figures. Used as a practice and compulsory figures rink, the rink was the only one of its kind in the country, named after famed coach Gus Lussi, who coached skaters like Dick Button and Dorothy Hamill to Olympic greatness.

Other than the "natural" look to the ice, there is another addition: Toward the back right corner of the arena, there is a figure-eight pattern painted in red, for skaters to practice the pattern which is considered the foundation of skating.

Compulsory figures were an important part of figure skating for most of the sport's history, and have a strong lineage in Lake Placid. After being discontinued in competition in 1990, figures were still practiced but weren't considered a part of the sport's competition or testing structure anymore. However, some coaches continued to teach figures for the alignment, control and technique it taught skaters. Several skaters remained devoted to the patterns and edges that they felt gave them the "edge" over other skaters who didn't practice such movements.

Olympian and five-time World Figure & Fancy Skating Championships organizing team leader Karen Courtland Kelly was very pleased to see the ice surface and feels it will be beneficial for all skaters.

"The ice quality and color in the 1932 rink this summer is a canvas that is truly interactive ice for skating," Courtland Kelly said. "Most rinks these days internally artificially paint their ice white and this does not easily allow for the necessary visual feedback for skaters and coaches to easily see a skater's technical errors left behind by the blades on the ice. To learn the best techniques for great hockey and beautiful figure and fancy skating (and all other types of skating) one must master the technology of the blades (the eight edges that one can skate) in the most efficient and non-scratching manner on a clean edge."

Figures experienced a renaissance in 2015, when the inaugural World Figure Championship and Figure Festival was hosted by the World Figure Sport Society, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) based in Lake Placid that upholds, protects and expands the knowledge and competition of Figure & Fancy Skating worldwide while fostering competitions and educational opportunities for Figure and Fancy Skating. The first of its kind, the event was hosted in the 1932 Arena, where the ice was painted black to better facilitate viewing of the patterns and edges for the festival and the following competition.

Now, Kelly feels the ice is optimal for skaters of all ages and levels to participate, with these improvements further establishing Lake Placid as a mecca for figure skating.

"At this moment, Lake Placid has the best ice in North America to innovatively connect the dots of the patterns that build the greatest techniques in skating," she said.



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