My new article, “The myth of skating history: Building elitism into a sport” has been published in a special issue of Leisure Sciences on myths and mythmaking. It’s about the development of figure skating’s origin story—that story about medieval Scandinavians traveling and hunting on bone skates that’s at the beginning of pretty much every book about skating.
Figure skating’s origin story relates the sport to Norse mythology, but this claim does not stand up to a careful analysis. Its roots can be traced to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquaries interested in the old north. The popularity of skating and early scholars’ imperfect understanding of Old Norse led to skating appearing in translations and adaptations of medieval Scandinavian literature despite being absent from the original. The origin story’s development can be traced through manuals and popular histories of figure skating from the eighteenth century to the present. This paper exposes figure skating’s origin story as the invention of a privileged class to elevate a popular leisure activity and explains its enduring function in supporting the upper-class image of figure skating.