Historical Figures

Madge Syers, figure skating pioneer

Pioneering figure skater, Madge Syers (1881 – 1917) took advantage in 1902 of a regulation not specifying the gender of participants to register for the World Championships; she finished second.

The passion for skating

Born on September 16, 1881 in London, Florence Madeline Cave was one of the fifteen children of Elizabeth Ann Cave and Edward Jarvis Cave, a property developer. Athlete, “Madge” practices swimming and horse riding, but above all is very talented in figure skating. She regularly frequents the ice rink at Prince's Skating Club , which opened in 1896 in London for skaters who wanted to train in the absence of crowds.

In 1899, Madge met 36-year-old skater and coach Edgar Syers, who finished third at the World Championships the same year. Their common passion brings them together; Madge and Edgar skate together in pair events and move away from the highly codified traditional English style to explore a freer style. In 1900, they finished second in a pair competition in Berlin. They are getting married in June.

Compete against men

In 1896 the first World Figure Skating Championships were held; they bring together four competitors, four men. Figure skating, like most sporting activities and competition, was then considered a male activity. However, no regulations prohibit the participation of women. In 1902, Madge Syers took the opportunity to register.

She finished second, behind Swedish figure skater Ulrich Salchow; his competitor was said to have been so impressed by his performance that he offered him his gold medal. Skater T. D. Richardson would later write that many pundits felt Madge should have won first place.

As a direct result of Madge's performance, the International Skating Union (IPU) changed the rules of the world championships to exclude women, and organized a women's championship from 1906. The arguments then argued that the skaters' dresses make it difficult to see their feet, the fear that a judge might have a particular attachment to a competitor... and the difficulty of comparing women and men.

A career at its peak

Madge Syers is undeterred and enters other competitions. In 1903, she won the first, mixed, British Figure Skating Championships; she also won the following year, while Edgar obtained the silver medal.

In 1906, the UIP organized in Switzerland its first edition of a "Women's Championship", which did not yet bear the name of a world championship and which was held on a different date and place from the men's championship. Madge wins it; she thus became the first female world figure skating champion. She won the title in 1907 as well.

In 1908, the Olympic Games in London included figure skating on the program for the first time. Madge participates in it, in the women's competition as well as in pairs. The official Games report describes his individual performance as follows:

“The wonderful accuracy of her figures, combined with perfect carriage and movement, was the chief feature of the morning’s skating. »

(The marvelous precision of his tricks, combined with perfect stance and movement, was the hallmark of the morning's skating)

Madge wins singles gold; the five judges place her at the top of the competition. She and Edgar win the bronze medal as a couple.

After the competition

After the Olympics, the health of Madge Syers, who is only 27 years old, declines. She retired from competition, and devoted herself with her husband to writing books on figure skating.

Madge Syers died of a heart attack in September 1917, at the age of 35.