Male skaters embrace synchronized events

JIM CRESSMAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Don't knock it until you've tried it.

That's the advice Thomas Banafa and Aapo Turpeinen have for males who might turn up their nose to synchronized skating.

The two Finnish skaters have been able to see parts of the world they otherwise would never have imagined visiting.

"This is already my second time to Canada," said Banafa, 22, competing in his third world championship and in countless internationals during 13 years in the sport.

Banafa and Turpeinen are with Finland 2, Team Unique, at the 2007 world championship at the John Labatt Centre and are among just 12 males on the 21 teams that represent 16 countries.

That's 12 males and 402 females.

Turpeinen, 18 and just finishing high school, is in his third year in synchro after being a singles figure skater.

He, like many other boys, took figure skating to improve his skating for hockey, but found he enjoyed figure skating so much he stuck with it and dropped out of hockey.

"I just followed the girls," the blond Finn said.

There's always been enough of a stigma attached to males in figure skating, so you can imagine what it's like for them in synchro.

"It was more like an accident," Banafa said of how he was introduced to it.

"I was 10 when I first saw synchronized and I just thought it looked nice and I tried out.

"It's a big threshold to be the only male on a girl team. It's probably because it's thought of as a girlie sport, but it's not. It's very demanding."

Being a male in a female-dominated sport, you can't hide, and Banafa said a mistake by a male "stands out. You attract attention."

Having males on a team allows for the introduction of lifts as synchro continues to evolve.

"Artistic impression is very important, so being a male skater is not an advantage in that respect, but of course you can do lifts easier and we have three in our program," said Banafa, who attends the University of Denmark.

Having said that, there is one thing both are very aware of -- being male doesn't automatically put them on this world-class team in a country that's won three world championships.

"It doesn't matter if you are a male or female," Banafa said. "The 16 best skaters (on the 20-member team) go on the ice. This is all about a group of people working together for very, very specific goals. Working as a team is one thing many people will never see in their life."

They feel when their synchro careers are finished they will retire from skating because professional ice shows are pretty much out of the question.


Videos

Photos