Madge Syers dreamed of Olympic gold; a figure skater, she was world renowned as one of the best skaters alive, surely she was set for the medal podium! Well, at least she would be, if women were allowed to compete in figure skating, which they must definitely were not!
But Madge wasn’t going to let that stop her
One of 15 children (Madge’s Mum definitely deserves a medal!) Madge fell in love with figure skating in her late teens, this love only intensified when she met her coach (and future husband) Edgar Syers.
The couple started skating as a pair, as well as individually. Both pushing each other to up their game.
They even wrote guides to figure skating, including one which was entirely poetry (natch).
But all the skating prose in the world couldn’t give Madge what she really really wanted – the right to compete.
You see, women weren’t allowed to compete in figure skating, BUT after some serious combing through the rules, Madge worked out that the World Championships rulebook didn’t actually specify anything on gender.
So she packed up her skates and headed off to the 1902 World Championships.
When Madge took to the ice, the crowd were memorised. In part because, oh my god a woman on the ice, and in part because our girl was seriously dressed to impress (pearl necklace and all!), but mainly because she was really bloody good!
By the end of the competition, Madge had placed second, beating a whole host of the worlds best male skaters.
In fact the gold medalist, Ulrich Salchow, was so impressed with Madge’s bravery and talent, he presented her with his medal; showing he believed her to be the true winner!
The International Skating Union was not having this.
The International Skating Union immediately met to discuss the problem that was Madge.
Their solution was to bar women from their competitions entirely. Citing 3 reasons:
- Long skirts prevented judges from having a good view of a skaters footwork
- It was hard to compare a woman’s talents to a man
- A woman may be romantically involved with a man; which could lead judges to over marking
In response to point 1, Madge shortened her skirts to the knee.
For points 2 and 3…well they were bullshit, so Madge skated on regardless.
Though she couldn’t compete in the World Championships anymore, Madge kept herself busy by winning as many other competitions as possible.
By 1906, Madge had made it impossible for female skaters to continue being ignored, so surprisingly her old foes, The International Skating Union, created a female figure skating championship.
Madge obviously won the gold.
In 1908, figure skating became an official Olympic sport (weirdly as part of the summer olympics).
It was pretty obvious to everyone by now that refusing entry to women was not an option; Madge would find a way to skate anyway.
And so at the 1908 London Olympics, Madge took to the ice once more. Her skills amazed the judges, who praised her as being in
‘A class of her own’
Ain’t that the truth!
By the end of the competition, Madge had won bronze in the pairs skating and gold as an individual skater; making her the first ever female figure skating Olympic champion!
Thanks to Madge’s refusal to EVER give in, the door was now open for female skaters. And they came in by the boatload, transforming figure skating into the batshit sport of insane feats of human athleticism that we know today: