Collegiate skaters seek break from competitive atmosphere
By Caroline Buck, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, February 17, 2011
Since Dartmouth’s club figure skating team was founded in 1997, the team has accumulated six U.S. Intercollegiate National Championship titles since 2000 — include five consecutively from 2004 to 2009 — and finished as the runner up behind Boston University last season, earning recognition as one of the nation’s best club programs.
For many of the team’s athletes, skating at the collegiate team level represents a less competitive atmosphere than skaters experienced before attending Dartmouth. Mahler-Haug and co-captain Rory Grant ’11 both started figure skating at a young age, competing for most of their lives.
To be a competitive skater at the high school level requires many hours of on and off-ice training, often more than 20 hours each week, Mahler-Haug and Grant said.
“On ice we have a total of seven to eight available hours [per week] in the winter,” Mahler-Haug said. “We typically have two practices a day so depending on your schedule you can go to one of the practices.”
Off-ice training is just as rigorous, and often includes “ballet or working out,” Grant said.
“I like that [figure skating] is surprisingly athletic even though it looks so pretty,” Iris Yu ’14 said. “Kind of like ballet is deceiving in its complexity and toughness.”
Athletes interviewed by The Dartmouth said they appreciate the team aspect present among College skaters.
“[Regular circuit skating] can put a lot of tension on friendships because it is so cutthroat and the pressure that is put on you as an individual is intense,” Grant said. “The pressure on a team is a different kind of pressure and I found that I love skating more.”
Especially appealing to the team’s athletes, though, is the dynamic that intercollegiate skating provides.
“The great thing about intercollegiate [competition] is that [figure skating] is very individual by nature and intercollegiate aggregates it into a team dynamic,” co-captain Alexandra Mahler-Haug ’11 said.
Although the club is not allowed to actively recruit as a varsity sport can, the closeness of skaters on the team is a selling point for some students.
“I e-mailed [head coach Jacki Smith] to ask about the skating team, and when I visited I was able to practice with the team and one of the girls took me to a class with her,” said Victoria Rackohn ’14, who has skated internationally for Team USA.
Ten of the 22 total undergraduate athletes on the team are freshmen. The team also includes two graduate students, according to Mahler-Haug.
Rackohn added that the individual circuit varies greatly from the inclusive atmosphere that collegiate skating fosters.
“Before, I would train five to six hours a day,” Rackohn said. “Now I go to school and skating is just something I do because I like doing it.”
Mahler-Haug echoed Rackohn, adding that skating often becomes more of a secondary concern for collegiate skaters.
“The regular circuit in the U.S. is very competitive and there are so many elite skaters. [Collegiate skaters] are the kids who have realized they won’t be going to the Olympics,” Mahler-Haug said. “Instead of being central in your life, [competing] becomes periphery.”
Yu, a team member who has been skating for 10 years, said she decided not to compete during part of her high school career for fear of it interfering with academics.
Smith, who has coached the figure skating team since 2008, said she understands the balance Dartmouth skaters seek in college.
“It allows skaters to continue something that they have been doing for many years and academics,” Smith said. “Like any sport, it’s a really hard thing to maintain grades and be a competitive athlete, [and] I don’t necessarily think that it is super relaxed as a club sport.”
Yu said that while she was not as competitive as some of her teammates on her pre-collegiate teams, Dartmouth was one of the first institutions she considered while still skating.
The team’s only official competition so far this season was at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in December, where Dartmouth finished second behind the University of Delaware.
“I am really excited about the team this year and I think we have a lot of promise,” Smith said.
The team will next compete on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20 at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del. If the team places well at the Delaware competition, it will then advance to the National Championship on March 19 in Ann Arbor, Mich.