South Korea's Yu-Na Kim looks to defend her Olympic gold medal in Sochi/(c) Alamy
With the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics only days away, we would like to take a moment to turn our attention to records from one of the most popular events of the Winter Games – figure skating.
With the debut this year of the first-ever figure skating team competition, we thought it would be fun to share that inclusive spirit by taking a tour around some of the global hotspots for the sport, Guinness World Records-style.
With that, lace up your skates, it's time for a record-breaking trip around the world of figure skating.
Let’s start in Northern Europe, the home of figure skating.
Scandinavia holds some of the earliest figure skating records, with a pair of legendary skaters setting records that haven’t been beaten in almost 100 years:
Most Olympic figure skating gold medals for a man:
The most Olympic figure skating gold medals won by a man is three by Gillis Grafstrom (Sweden), won consecutively from 1920-1928.
Most Olympic gold figure skating medals for a woman:
Meanwhile, the most Olympic figure skating gold medals won by a woman is also three, by Sonja Henie from Swedish neighbor Norway. She picked up where Grafstrom left off, winning consecutively from 1928-1936.
NORTHERN AND CENTRAL EUROPE
Moving a bit farther south, we reach a surprising hot spot for skating records – the United Kingdom. On first glance, this may seem surprising, as the UK is not known as a figure skating powerhouse (with the exception of ice dancers Torvill and Dean).
Historically, however, the UK was extremely important to the development of the sport. The Edinburgh Skating Club was the first ice skating association (formed in 1742), and the British were renowned in the 19th century for the intricate and difficult figures their skaters were able to trace in the ice.
In more modern times, the UK has seen many figure skating records broken, including Robin Cousins' record double on Nov. 16, 1983. That day, he (who you can see in action above at Lake Placid 1980) hit both the longest axel jump and longest back flip on figure skates, reaching 5.81 m (19 ft 1 in) and 5.48 m (18 ft), respectively.
But the UK doesn't stand alone.
Our skating tour of Europe would not be complete without mentioning one of our most popular skating record-holders – Lucinda Ruh of Switzerland, who is known as one of the best spinners of all time. She proved this by setting the record for the most continuous upright spins on ice skates, rotating 115 times on one foot at Chelsea Piers Sky Rink in New York City on April 3, 2003.
Next we move a bit farther east, to one of the most dominant countries in figure skating – Russia. For the 2014 Games, Russia has a great shot at gold in the pairs team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who hold the current record of the highest total score for a pairs team, set at the 2013 Skate America competition with a total of 237.71.
Volosozhar and Trankov uphold a long and impressive tradition of successful pairs skating in Russia. In fact, the country holds the record for longest winning streak at any single event in the Winter Olympics, as the USSR/Russia won the pairs figure skating competition for 46 straight years between 1964-2006.
To list all of the figure skating Olympic medals records won by the Soviet Union or Russia would be an entirely different piece. But two more non-Olympic records prove just how skating-crazy the country is:
The fastest spin on ice skates was achieved by Natalia Kanounnikova (Russia) with a maximum rotational velocity of 308 rotations per minute at Rockefeller Center Ice Rink in New York City on 27 March 2006.
While the largest ice rink measures a surface area of 12,600 m² (135,625 ft²) in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. The rink, which is situated in a 15,000 seat arena, is 185.95 m (610 ft) long and 74 m (2442.7 ft) wide at its extremes and was completed in March 2003.
Continuing to move east, we reach Asia, which has grown into a major influence in figure skating over the past decade. South Korea boasts the current ladies Olympic champion, Yu-Na Kim, who is trying to win back-to-back Olympic gold (something that has not been done since Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988). Kim holds the record for the highest total score in the discipline, at 228.56 set at Vancouver 2010.
Japan also has an impressively deep roster in both the men’s and women’s disciplines. Reigning Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada set a record in Vancouver when she landed the most triple axels performed in one competition by a female with three.
And while he's since been overtaken by Canadian Patrick Chan, men’s favorite Daisuke Takahashi previously held the record for the highest total score (male) back in 2008.
The final stop on our world skating tour is North America, where both Canadian and American skaters have a good shot at gold in Sochi.
Canada is well-known as a skating powerhouse - Patrick Chan currently holds the record for the highest total score by a man, of 295.27, set at Paris' Trophée Bompard in November.
Skating is so ingrained in Canadian culture that the Great White North was even home to the longest ice skating trail. That measured 8.5 km (5.26 miles) and was the naturally frozen Winnipeg's Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as measured on Jan. 26, 2008.
Though the United States has been home to some of the most celebrated (and infamous) names in figure skating history, the U.S. is surprisingly light on world records. Team USA does have an excellent shot for gold in ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who hold the highest total score in ice dancing, at 191.35, set at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December. Davis and White are attempting to become the first American ice dance team to claim Olympic gold.
Besides Davis and White’s, one other impressive record boasted by the U.S. comes from popular show skater Richard Dwyer. Dwyer owns the longest career as a professional ice skater at 63 years and counting. "Mr Debonair," who began his professional career in 1950 aged 14, continues to perform.
As we see, figure skating is so much more than just Russian domination. It's grown into a truly global sport that should set the stage for an amazing - and hopefully record-breaking! - couple of weeks in Sochi.
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