Story: Ice sports

Page 2. Ice skating

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As a recreation, ice skating has been popular in New Zealand since the 19th century. Competitive ice skating events have their origins in the 1930s. The New Zealand Ice Skating Association (NZISA) was established in 1937 to govern speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey. Skaters initially gathered to practise their skills at outdoor venues such as Mt Harper, Lake Tekapo, Lake Lyndon and Lake Ida in Canterbury, and Manorburn Dam in Otago. Indoor rinks were first established in the 1950s at Timaru and Christchurch, and later other places.

Get your skates on

An ice skate is a boot to which a slightly curved blade is fastened with screws. The blade has a groove down the centre, creating two edges – inside and outside. Figure skating involves shifting the weight from one edge of the blade to the other to generate speed on the ice and execute a variety of moves. Unlike speed or hockey skates, figure skates have a set of jagged teeth known as toe picks at the front of the blades, which enable the skater to perform jumps.

Speed skating

In speed-skating events competitors race against each other or the clock on tracks of various lengths.

Long-track races are held on a 400-metre-long track. Typically, only two skaters race simultaneously, and the result is decided according to time.

Short-track races are held on tracks of 111 metres and involve mass starts, with the first person to cross the line being the winner. Skaters often compete in heats to reach a final.

Other speed-skating events include team pursuit and relay races. For inline races, up to four skaters start simultaneously and are timed, while for marathon races there are mass starts and the first person to cross the line is the winner.


In New Zealand the first national championships were held on 220-yard (201-metre) outdoor tracks, with mass starts. Early races were 220 yards, 880 yards (805 metres) and 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres). From the mid-1950s Dutch immigrants introduced the concept of racing pairs on a 400-metre track. This internationally recognised form of long-track racing was adopted in 1961, but in New Zealand such events were (and, in the 2000s, still are) held outside because no indoor track was long enough. In 1962 marathon racing began.

Organisational changes

The NZISA affiliated with the International Skating Union in 1964, adopting its rules and standards. In 1982 speed skating formed its own national association, which became known as Ice Speed Skating New Zealand. In 2013 there were speed-skating clubs in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Skating and cycling

Chris Nicholson, who represented New Zealand in short-track skating at both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, has the rare distinction of also being selected for the 1992 Summer Olympics where he was part of the team that finished 10th in the men’s road cycling team time trial.

International competition

Competition with Australia began in 1973, and from the early 1980s New Zealand speed skaters attended world championships. In 1993 the New Zealand men’s team won the 5,000-metre relay in world-record time. Skaters also represented the country in short-track skating at the 1992, 1994, 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics and in long-track in 1998 and 2010. In both 1992 and 1994 men’s teams were placed in the 5,000-metre relay, and in 1992 Chris McMillen came fourth in the 1,000-metre men’s race.

Figure skating

In figure skating, individuals, pairs or groups perform jumps, spins, lifts, turns and steps to music. They are judged on the technical competence of specific elements of their skating and the overall performance, including choreography and interpretation. The four Olympic disciplines are men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pair skating and ice dancing.

Development in New Zealand

As well as organising national figure-skating championships from 1939, the New Zealand Ice Skating Association ran a system of tests so that skaters could gain qualifications according to skill. In 2011 the association changed its name to the New Zealand Ice Figure Skating Association.

Clubs and competitions

In 2013 there were figure skating clubs in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Gore, Alexandra and Queenstown. Although they have not yet participated in the Olympics, New Zealand skaters have competed with success at international competitions since 1976.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Ice sports - Ice skating', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jan 2016