Edward Bushnell, an industrial-era businessman from Philadelphia, revolutionized winter sports in 1850 by fitting a steel blade to a common boot. This allowed a skater to perform intricate spins and turns on the ice. By the turn of the century, figure skating was introduced to the Olympic movement. Figure skating owes much of its development as a sport and as an art to the Olympic Games.
It started one summer
The first Olympic figure skating competition took place at the 1908 London Games, 16 years before the first Winter Games. Above are British figure skater Madge Syers and her husband, Edgar, who won bronze in the pairs competition. Syers brought women into competitive figure skating when she entered the 1902 World Championships via a loophole: there was no rule barring women from competition. She placed second behind Ulrich Salchow, namesake of the classic figure skating maneuver. Salchow felt so strongly that Syers had outperformed him, he offered her his gold medal. Syers won her own gold medal in the women’s figure skating event in 1908. (© PA Images Archive/Getty Images)
The one and only Miss Henie
Sonja Henie of Norway was just 15 in 1928 when she claimed her first of three Olympic gold medals. Before her winning streaks brought about the nickname of the “Ice Queen,” Henie was the youngest-ever Olympian. While competing at the 1924 Winter Games, 11-year-old Henie came in last place after stopping several times during her routine to ask her coach what to do next. (© George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images)
Grafström is golden
Gillis Grafström of Sweden prepares to complete his trifecta of Olympic wins at the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He remains the only male figure skater to earn three successive gold medals. (© Gerhard Riebicke/ullstein bild/Getty Images)
The death spiral
Ludmila Belousova hangs from the grasp of Oleg Protopopov while performing a back inside death spiral (or Cosmic spiral, as the pair called it) during the 1964 Innsbruck Games. The Soviet couple invented three signature versions of the one-handed death spiral, which was first introduced to pairs skating by Canadians Suzanne Morrow and Wallace Diestelmeyer in the 1940s. (© Staff/AFP/Getty Images)
The name figure skating came from the shapes, or “school figures,” that skaters’ steel blades would leave in the ice. This, rather than the complicated footwork and spins that we associate with the sport today, was the basis of competition for early modern Olympians. Judges went onto the ice to evaluate a skater’s figures, like those cut by American Tenley Albright in the 1956 Winter Games, shown here. At that time, the school figures portion of competition was 40 percent of an athlete’s score. The figures portion was dropped in 1990. (© Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)
American figure skater Carol Heiss was all smiles before competition in Squaw Valley, California, during the 1960 Winter Games. In 1956, she became the first woman to land a double axel in Olympic history, but she only earned second place. She promised her dying mother that she would return in 1960 to take the gold, and she did. (© AP Images)
ShareAmerica writer Emily Louise Bowman contributed to this article.