Back to: Index of Skating(1892)
Transcribed from SKATING, page 303 at Open Library




AN exhaustive treatise on the theory of skating, or even a satisfactory inquiry into the relative value of different styles, is out of the question in a short chapter. I propose to give such information as I have been able to collect, which bears on this subject, and which will supply data to enable those who are interested to elaborate theories for themselves.

Skating involves the use of almost every muscle in the body, and the most careful control of those muscles for propulsion, balance, and guidance; and only when they all work in harmony, and under skilful control, can the best results as to speed be attained.

Favoured by the prolonged frost of the winter of 1890-91, 1 was able to get a fairly good collection of facts, and as everything depends upon the trustworthiness of these data, it may be well to explain the method I adopted.

At Heerenveen, on the great racecourse, a slight fall of snow had whitewashed the surface of the ice, and, choosing a suitable part, Mr. Donoghue, at my request, skated. at racing speed across it, leaving his stroke marks clearly cut in the snow. With a cord about a chain (twenty-two yards) long, a line was marked in the snow showing the direction of the skater, the stroke marks diverging from it to the right and left. This centre line in the diagram of strokes is shown as an elongated arrow. Spacing this centre line out by a mark in the snow every twelve inches, I noted down the distance of the stroke to the right or left of the centre line at each mark. Subsequently Klass Hanje, the champion Fries short-distance skater, left his stroke marks on the snow for me, and these were also reduced to figures. The same process was applied to my own strokes when I returned to England. From these measurements the stroke-mark diagrams were prepared. A certain amount of detail is lost in the reduction to so small a scale; but nothing very material is wanting nothing, indeed, but mere peculiarities of each stroke, due to imperfections of ice, or other such causes, reproduction of which might be misleading. It is a typical stroke that is wanted, and these are typical as well as actual strokes. Two strokes are never precisely alike; for the effect of bluntness of skates, state of ice, direction and force of wind, pace, or condition of skater, considerably affect the stroke mark. I have, however, been unable to give the depth of cut in the ice along the stroke-mark, and this is of some importance as showing where the greatest force was used.

The next information obtained was by watching skaters racing, counting the number of strokes they made per minute, and then, given the time for the whole course, the distance the skater travelled at each stroke is easily worked out. This was for the first time taken by me when Mr. Donoghue won the mile championship at Heerenveen, and since then has fortunately been calculated in subsequent races.

But the most important basis for theory is the series of instantaneous photographs which I was happily able to obtain at Amsterdam. A partially successful series had previously been taken of both K. Pander and J. Jurrjens, preparing the way for the first entirely successful and beautiful series which Messrs. Loman & Co. of Amsterdam photographed from Messrs. Donoghue, Underborg, and myself, when skating. The Management of the Amsterdam Skating Association kindly allowed me the use of a part of their rink; a bright sun was shining, a large white sheet formed a background, and the figures came out clearly and well defined, without one failure. Arrangements were made to send James Smart to Amsterdam to be photographed, but to my great regret the frost did not last long enough.

The series of Mr. Donoghue and myself are reproduced here exactly as photographed, except that they are enlarged. This collection, especially as it contains the photographs of such a fine skater as Mr. Donoghue, is the most valuable contribution ever made to the facts needed to construct a true theory of skating. Hundreds of solitary instantaneous photographs will not supply the same information as a series.

A number of cameras about a yard apart were placed in a row pointing towards a narrow course, and as the skater passed, he cut one after another the silk threads stretched across. When cut, each thread released a button and set up an electric current connected with each of the cameras, which dropped a shutter and photographed the skater.

Three styles of skating will be described the Dutch, English, and Modern racing, these being the most distinctive.


The skaters of Holland are divided into two classes the Friesland and South Holland. The style of the latter is best known to us as the ' Dutch roll.' On slightly curved blades the South Hollander avoids the necessity of keeping to a straight course, and in easy and graceful curves swings from side to side, riding on the outside edge, his body very much inclined from the perpendicular. He seems to put off striking as long as it is possible to enjoy the roll, then at last makes a short quick strike back, throwing himself on the outside edge of the other skate.

This style, whatever its merits, does not help us much to find out the best method for speed. It is the short-distance skater of Friesland who here concerns us most, for in his 160-metre (175 yards) races he has no equal. Other Dutchmen, such as Kingma and Pander, excel in long-distance races, but that is because they have left their first love and partially adopted the modern racing style. They are not as typical of a distinctive style as Klass Hanje or B. Dekker, who skate in a way that perhaps dates back one or two centuries, when also skates similar to those they now use were invented.


English, or Fen, style is confined to the Fen district, and its distinctiveness is shown by the fact that in England no one outside the Fens can equal a Fenman for speed. Though skating was introduced from Holland, a distinct way of skating suitable for long-distance races was soon developed, probably owing to the conscious as well as unconscious imitation of the gait of successful skaters when skating in single file behind a crack performer, a practice very general in the Fens. This gait has resulted in what is known as Fen style. Its best exponent was undoubtedly old 'Turkey ' (William) Smart, who showed how it was possible to use his powerful frame to the best advantage, and achieved wonderful results, both in speed and length of stroke. His style may be considered the finest possible for the objects to which it was directed, his influence on skating was marked and good, and although no one since has quite caught his mantle, in our present champion, James Smart, we see much of his uncle's form. A few successful skaters whose attitude in skating is more upright and with a shorter stroke, Larmen Register and even the late champion George (' Fish ') Smart among them, have somewhat modified the Fen style.

I had hoped to give drawings showing James Smart's style, but regret to say I cannot do so; I have therefore been forced to substitute particulars of my own. I believe, however, and have been told, that my style is as near old ' Turkey's ' as any Fenman's, although of course I have no pretensions to his pace.


Those countries which cannot be considered to have inherited a distinctive style - Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Germany, &c. - have been working out and adopting a method of progression which is the outcome of the effect of racing, and of racing only. To Axel Paulsen, the Norwegian, belongs most of the credit for this. His success in Europe and America did much to bring about its adoption, and we are told that the boys in New York, after his victories there, all imitated him as well as they knew how.

Norway and Sweden may be considered the headquarters of this style, and the skates which are essential to it are made at Christiania, although it must be added that Mr. Donoghue, of the United States, is certainly one of its finest exponents, if indeed he has any superior. The marked feature of the skates in question is their prolonged heel. Several persons claim the credit of introducing this. Mr. J. A. Whelpley says that thirty-two years ago (1859) he conceived the idea, and called his skates the 'Long Reach,' after the name of a fourteen mile straight stretch of the River St. John; and since then they have been adopted in the neighbourhood and introduced on the Hudson River. Some credit is due to him, but he was not the first inventor, for a pair of skates with a heel prolonged two inches behind were made by Mr. Berney in 1855 for Larmen Register, though Larmen clipped the heels short and nipped the idea in the bud.

Skating is not running on the ice, as beginners find to their sorrow, nor, indeed, anything at all like it. This is obvious when we notice how slow are a skater's movements, even when going very fast, in comparison with those of a runner.

In running, progress is made by a series of bounds forward, each started by the backward pressure of the foot at the moment when it is stationary on the ground. With skates and on slippery ice progress thus is impossible. Again, in running, the body is unsupported during most of the time, and when the foot does come to the ground the body has considerably fallen and acquired a falling impetus; in the next bound exertion is required in order to raise the body again sufficiently to allow of a forward impetus. It is gravity which roots us to the earth.

In skating we cannot quite avoid all the exertion of overcoming this falling impetus; for it is necessary for the body to fall slightly to allow of the full extension and reach of the limbs; but we have always one foot on the ice, and during about half the time two, to sustain the weight. The body falls, it is true, but always under control. Second to this important act of counteracting gravity comes the more pleasurable one of progress. In this the friction of the skate against the ice and the resistance of the air must be overcome. Ice fortunately lends itself in a peculiarly favourable way to rapid motion, for though extremely slippery a good scotch or foothold is possible.

To obtain motion the foot or skate may be said to act in three successive functions: as a rudder, as a glider, and as a striker.

Before going further, I wish to make a few explanatory remarks about the diagrams, etc.

The word 'strike' is used to imply that part of the stroke during which the leg propels the body forward in fact, the end of the stroke.

By referring to the diagram of stroke marks, the following example will explain the use of letters and figures. D i R indicates the i foot pad of the Right foot of Mr. Donoghue's stroke. The numbers of these foot pads mark the position of the corresponding number in the instantaneous series, and readers are advised, when reading the description, to refer to both figures and diagram.

Vertical lines are one yard apart, making it easy to measure the length of any part of the stroke. The horizontal lines are one foot apart, showing the amount of deflection of any part of the stroke to the right or left of the centre or arrow line.

Small arrows show the direction in which the camera was pointed when one particular view, viz. No. 4 in both series, was taken.

diagram of skate strokes

Diagram of Skate Strokes

Opposite each of these stroke marks is shown the skate used in making it, 1/15 actual size. The sections of blades are 1/4 actual size. The blades of Mr. Donoghue's and my skates are ground square and flat, but Hanje's are ground at an angle so as to leave the inside edge decidedly acute and the outside edge obtuse.

The little foot pads are on the right or left or on the stroke, and show whether the skate is on its outside or inside edge or on the flat. Thus at D 3 L the skate is on the inside edge, at D 4 R on the outside, and at D 5 R on the flat. The right and left is to the right hand or left hand of a person looking in the direction the arrow centre lines point.

Where the foot after striking has left the ice, its progress is shown by dotted lines, and its position above the ice given by short marks and numbers.

To analyse the series of attitudes, draw two horizontal parallel lines, the one cutting the centre of the right foot skate blade where it touches the ice, and the other just touching the highest part of the shoulders or back. From these the rise and fall of the body may be measured. I find that Mr. Donoghue is at his highest point in No. 2 and No. 6, and lowest at No. 4 and No. 8, there being a difference of some ten inches.

Now take the diagram of strokes as well as the figures in the series, and go through Mr. Donoghue's strokes, beginning at No. 1.

Here the right foot is just taking the weight, and, in order to act as a rudder and resist the strike of the left foot, is upon the outside edge. Rapidly advancing and with increasing speed it overtakes the left foot, receiving more and more the weight of the body, until passing by Nos. 2 and 3, it has the whole weight at No. 4. During this time the left foot has been striking and its pace diminishing, until a little beyond No. 3 it is stationary, and the next moment flies backwards and upwards off the ice as at No. 4.

Before arriving at No. 1 the left foot was striking, for almost as soon as the stroke crossed the centre line and diverged to the left, a backward pressure was possible. The power of striking backward increases more and more as the foot is more and more in the rear; at the end of the strike the heel is raised and the toe gives a final push, cutting deep into the ice with the fullest stretch of the leg. With this final push what little weight the left leg carried is thrown forward over the right foot. Beginning from the cramped position of Nos. 1 and 2 the whole limb from the loin to the ankle is extended to its full length, and the body lowered and from the shoulder downward twisted towards the striking leg, to give it the greatest reach and the fullest freedom. When the right leg first receives the weight upon being placed on the ice, it raises the body to one of its highest positions at No. 2, and then allows it to fall m again during the stroke. As the body falls, the right knee becomes more and more bent, and is bent most when the full weight is received at No. 4, the centre of gravity being here at its lowest. Continuing with the right leg, this has now lost its rudder function, which function, it may be remarked, involved considerable amount of exertion to overcome the lateral pressure of the left tending to drive the skate away to the right. At Nos. 5 and 6 it acts as glider and supporter, or rather raiser of the body, for at No. 6 the body has been raised 10 inches from No. 4. There is now no need to be on the outside edge, so in order to glide more easily it is turned on the flat.

The left leg has now its rest, and is merely returning ready to take up the running at the proper moment, and to be placed on the ice in the best position for the next stroke. In doing this Mr. Donoghue raises his heels high in the air behind him, twisting the skate so as to bring the toe again inwards; and indeed this is the common practice with all who use the long-toed skates. I suppose it is no extra exertion to raise the heel up high, and in their anxiety to be clear of the ice skaters exceed what is necessary. From an aesthetic point of view it does not add to the otherwise extremely graceful movement of Mr. Donoghue. Returning to the right foot, before it arrives at No. 7 it has turned on to the inside edge and is ready to strike, the body is falling fast, and will continue to fall until at No. 8 the left leg has taken the weight.

picture p 312 Modern Racing style (about 1/40 actual size). Instantaneous series taken of Mr. Joseph F. Donoghue.

The importance of putting the skate of the left foot down in the exact position at No. 8 arises from the fact that the skates are so long and so flat that it is extremely difficult when any weight is upon them to alter their direction. The whole stroke has for this reason to begin on the side of the centre line opposite that of the Fen stroke, because it would otherwise be thrown at the finish too far from this line. It is impossible to make the curves as shown in the Fen stroke upon thin, flat, 18-inch blades. This completes one-half of Mr. Donoghue's movements; the other half is but a repetition with the legs reversed. It ought to be mentioned that the strokes shown in the diagram are not those that Mr. Donoghue skated when he was photographed, and some allowance must therefore be made should the strokes and attitudes not exactly coincide. In comparing Mr. Donoghue's series with those representing the Fen series, it will be found that the movements in the main are much the same. The Fen strike is shorter, and at its finish the heel leaves the ice at nearly the same time as the toe, the heel of the striking skate being at that moment more nearly at a right angle to the centre line. After striking, the foot is not lifted in the air heel uppermost, but returned with the sole almost parallel to the ice, the toe being gradually turned inwards.

photo p 313Modern Racing Style (about ^ actual size).

photo p 314 English Fen Style (1/40 actual size). Instantaneous series taken of Mr. C. G. Teblnitt.

Another difference very noticeable is that the arms are freely used in Fen-skating instead of being clasped behind the back. Axel Paulsen is principally responsible for this fashion of locking the hands behind the back. The arms have a function, and if they assist in attaining the object in view ever so little they should be used.

p 315 English Fen Style (1/40 actual size).

The great object in the Fen style of skating is never to allow the body to leave the centre line, and as the legs strike out to the right or left the arms are thrown in an opposite direction to balance. The result is that a Fenman like James Smart skates straighter than Mr. Donoghue, and rides less over his striking leg.

The rise and fall of the body is not so great, it being in my own case about five inches, although this difference maybe to a large extent accounted for by the extra height and length of limb of Mr. Donoghue.

Hanje's stroke at once attracts notice as being short, and not suitable for a distance-skater. The object of the Fries is to rush a short distance over the ice at terrific speed, and all prolonged movements and small economies must be avoided. His must be a dashing stroke. Now it is obvious that the most effective strike for onward progress must be backward, only the striking leg must be travelling backwards faster than the onward progress. This exertion the Fries is prepared for and can maintain for 175 yards; beyond a quarter of a mile the falling off in speed is extraordinary. In considering Klass Hanje's stroke it must be remembered that he completes four strokes before Mr. Donoghue has made two : the strokes in fact become almost a series of forward bounds. After the right leg at the beginning of the second stroke in the diagram was dashed down behind the left, it was shot in front, and at a began to receive the impetus from the strike of the left skate at A. In a similar part of the stroke Mr. Donoghue or a Fenman would have been resting his whole weight on the right skate and the left would have been extended from the body. Not so here. The body has followed the direction of the left leg, and this leg is bent or crouched beneath it, ready to spring forward when it reaches A. With weight over it, and the inside edge of the skate ground to an acute angle cutting the ice like a knife, there is no fear of not getting a good ' scotch ' for the strike. Directly the spring forward or cut backward is given, the right leg will have reached ^, and it will be seen that the course it takes from b to c is in a direct line with the strike, the left leg after striking leaving the ice directly behind the skater. To allow of the cut back, which is given -from the heel to the toe, the ankle must have free play; no' boots are worn and the attachments of the skates leave the ankle unhampered. As the toe is the last to leave the ice the heels are kicked up behind one of the most noticeable features of Dutch skating. The strokes never diverge far from the centre line, but cross and recross it so rapidly that the skater seems to be going very straight. As a proof how well suited the Fries style is to short races, even small boys can outpace any foreigner for a few yards.

We will now consider the length of strokes and rapidity of striking. Old ' Turkey ' Smart had probably the most powerful and effective stroke of any known skater, and from measurement taken when he was racing in 1854, his strokes must have averaged from thirteen to fifteen yards. On one occasion, when skating at Huntingdon with the wind, his strokes were measured and found to be eighteen yards. He told me that once on Whittlesea Mere the course was purposely marked out by lumps of snow into chain (twenty-two yards) lengths. Skating for a wager he beat his opponent, and the last time down each stroke corresponded with the chain measure. ' You can easily make a long stroke by dwelling on it,' Smart added. What length of stroke is most effective and necessary to win races is the thing to be ascertained. James Smart usually takes about ten -yard strokes.

The diagram shows us that strokes considerably overlap. Mr. Donoghue's do this to something like three yards, mine about five feet, Hanje's about one yard. The true length of a stride is from the beginning of one stroke to the beginning of the next, as that is the distance traversed from each strike. This makes Mr. Donoghue's stride six yards, mine five yards two feet, and Hanje's nearly four yards.

At Heerenveen, in the mile race, Mr. Donoghue took 86 strokes against wind, and 80 with, or an average of 83 per minute, covering about six yards two feet each stroke. Hanje in the quarter-mile dashed off 158 strides of three yards one foot. What a difference ! At Amsterdam, when Mr. Donoghue won the Championship of the World in the half-mile, he made 120 five-yard strides in the minute; that is to say, he went ten yards per second. In the five-mile race he maintained an English Fen Style almost uniform 84 strides per minute of six yards one and a half feet, when he made the record time of 16 min. 2! sees. The second man, K. Pander, made 132 strides of four yards one foot, but had he been able with this length of stride to equal Mr. Donoghue, he must have dashed off 150 strokes to the minute, an impossible exertion to maintain for a mile.

At Hamburg, in the mile race, the Norwegian, A. Norseng, maintained 100 strides of five yards two and a half feet, completing the mile in the splendid time of 2 min. 59;.) sees., and the Swede, O. Grunden, struck 106 strides of five yards one and a half feet. No one, unless in grand form, could have kept up such high pressure, combining rapidity with length of stroke. At Groningen, also in a mile race, the best Dutch amateurs competing, the winners were K. Pander, who took 98 strides of five yards two feet; J. J. Eden, 106 strides of five yards; Van Dissel, 88 of six yards; and De Koe, with big strokes of 76 strides of seven yards. The advantage went to the shorter strokes and extra rapidity of striking.

K. Pander (Holland). (From instantaneous photograph. )

From these and other statistics, it seems that the maximum speed of striking is about 160 per minute, and that 60 strokes is an old gentleman's pace; that it is almost impossible to maintain 120 strokes for a mile, or over 90 for five miles; that in order to skate a mile in three minutes a man must cover five yards each stride, and that six yards is the best length.

A great deal of interest is now felt in the question as to which style is the best suited for racing. As evidently the Fries or Dutch style is only fit for distances under half a mile, the answer really lies between the style of Mr. Donoghue and that of James Smart. In important points both methods are alike, and except for the swing of the arms, the differences are due to the length of the blade of the skate. This length of blade is supposed to be essential for a grip upon hard, flinty ice, ice that is frozen at a very low temperature. If it is and it is also necessary to have most of this extra length in front of the toe- then the modern racing style in all particulars, except perhaps the swing of the arms, is best on such ice; for it is impossible to skate like a Fenman upon long-toed skates. If, on the other hand, by using a thinner blade and perhaps lengthening the blade behind the heel, it is possible to get all the hold necessary, then I fail to see why any Fenman need think of changing his style. James Smart has, I believe, demonstrated by his marked success on smooth hard ice in Holland, and, what is more, by his splendid times, that it is not better style, but better training, which handicaps a Fenman in racing a foreigner.

The long Norwegian skates are obviously unfit for the rougher and softer ice usual to a Fen course. Mr. Donoghue was fortunate in skating in England during the winter of 1890-91 on the best and hardest ice I have ever seen in the Fens.

One decided advantage of Mr. Donoghue's style is that he can begin to strike so much sooner than Smart does. In the front view illustration of Mr. Donoghue he is seen striking with the left leg, and this position corresponds nearly with No. i. It is this early propulsion forward which explains the mystery of his great pace; but at the finish of the strike, when it is most effective, the Fenman, I believe, puts in more work and to better advantage. And the last point in favour of Fen style is that the stroke in the gliding part follows more nearly the direction of the centre line, and the skater keeps a straighter course.

In conclusion, I beg to acknowledge the help I have received from the following : Dr. Roger Goodman, for the loan of the late Mr. Neville Goodman's extracts and notes; Mr. W. B. Curtis, New York; Mr. Albert Goodman, London; the late Mr. J. van B. Wichers, Leiden; the late Baron de Salis, Amsterdam; Mr. Adolf Norseng, Norway; the Management of the Dutch Skating Association; and the Management of the Amsterdam Ice Club. My only regret is that, in the space at my command, I have been able to use such a comparatively small portion of the valuable and interesting information so kindly put at my disposal.