Elite 12: What are these coaches thinking?


Mirjami Penttinen, Siiri Eskelinen, Kaisa Arrateig, Anu Oksanen and Liisa Lakela gave their opinion about Elite 12. (Credits: Kirsi Laine | teams' and clubs' original photos)

The ISU has announced its decision to try out next winter the Elite 12 project, a competition with teams of 12 skaters. In a recent article of the Finnish Figure Skating Association, the coaches of the Finnish senior teams say they are open to the project, but also with slight doubts.

Direct translation
Source Finnish Figure Skating Association ( 

The context
The Elite 12 project is to establish a new competition series for high-level skaters alongside a series of 16 skaters. As the size of the 16 skaters in the formation teams has been a stumbling block in the Olympic applications, the ISU (International Skating Union) ants to test whether the 12-skater lineup will pass the Olympic Committee selection screen in the future.

The reduced team size is also expected to bring new countries into the international series and thus increase the chances of the Olympic application.

There is no problem in Finland getting 16 top skaters to the teams. But elsewhere, a smaller team size could make it easier to assemble high-level teams, said Marie Lundmark, member of the ISU board at the Finnish Figure Skating Association. 

For her, the Elite 12 experiment must be explicitly tested in international competitions and not just for exploring demo videos. "The current competition with 16 skaters will by no means be cancelled", she added.

Elite 12 tested in two Challenger Series events next season
The ISU Synchro Technical Committee has asked synchro teams to send videos of a free program or individual elements with a 12-skaters team. "Initially, the aim was to gather material on the basis of which a decision on a new ISU series could have been formally made at the June ISU Congress," Ida Hellström, representing the ISU Athletes Commission, explained.

As the congress was cancelled due to the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, the decision will also be postponed to a congressional meeting in a year, added Ida. According to Skating Finland, the trial of the new Elite 12 category will be possible in two Challenger Series events next season, in France and the United States.

Challenger Series events 2021-2022
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Kaisa Arrateig, Helsinki Rockettes
Head coach of the Helsinki Rockettes, Kaisa Arrateig compiled a 12-skaters version of the free program last season and sent it to the technical committee.

"I think 12 skilled skaters on the ice doing the same thing at the same time look great and fast-paced. At the same time, however, we lose the core of synchro skating, especially the shapes and variations that we can propose," explained Kaisa Arrateig. 

Kaisa said she has enough understanding for the solution, even if she does not support the change. Like many other coaches, she's also worried about the costs. "Costs per skater will increase when fewer athletes are sharing the costs. Ice time and coaching costs will remain the same, but the number of skaters will be reduced," she noted.

Helsinki Rockettes with their coach Kaisa Arrateig. (Credits: Kirsi Laine Photography - 2020)

Mirjami Penttinen, Team Unique
Team Unique's head coach Mirjami Penttinen has sent parts of her team's short and free program to the ISU Technical Committee with 12 skaters on the ice. It was easier for her to send snippets of the old program than to learn something completely new.

"I haven't sacrificed any more thoughts for this Elite 12 experiment. I’m waiting in peace to see if the series is coming, and then I wonder what it means to us and whether there will be 12 skaters in future team size," Mirjami Penttinen said to Marita Kokko from Skating Finland.

For her, some of the patterns are not as spectacular for 12 skaters as for a team of 16 skaters. However, Miru noticed that with fewer athletes, skating glides better, and it gives more space on the ice to create programs.

Team Unique - "Garden of Eden" Free Skate. (Credits: Kirsi Laine Photography - 2020)

Helsinki Rockettes and Team Unique are the only Senior teams from Finland to have sent some "12 skaters videos" to the ISU. The other teams did not participate in the experiment due to lack of time and the Covid situation.

Anu Oksanen, Marigold IceUnity
"Synchronized skating is based on making formations, and the patterns are created at best by the number of skaters. If you are looking for speed and do-it-yourself, then the sport will become a 12 skaters solo skating program," said Anu Oksanen. Her biggest fear is that synchro will lose too much.

"The number of skaters has already been dropped from 24 to 16, and the degree of difficulty has been added. I don’t know how much we are willing to change the sport just for the sake of the Olympic dream," MIU's head coach continued.

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Anu also questioned the name of the series and feared that Elite 12 is a bit like "the elite", compared to other categories of 16 athletes, for example. She would rather propose a name like "Olympic 12", more unifying and directed towards its objective: the Olympic Games.

Marigold IceUnity in last season's free program. (Credits: Kirsi Laine Photography - 2020)

Liisa Lakela, Lumineers
With the preparation of the upcoming season, no demo program or individual elements have been submitted by Lumineers. The head coach Liisa Lakela sees both opportunities and threats in the Elite 12 project.

"The smaller team size will definitely bring out new aspects of the sport. It emphasizes individual skills, tricks, and pace and brings synchro skating closer to other figure skating sports. But on the other hand, the threat is how much the core of our discipline, i.e. the team and the elements, will suffer," she explained.

For Liisa Lakela, smaller team size will undoubtedly allow new countries to participate in the competitions, but at the same time, the gap between the top teams and the tail end may widen further.

Lumineers, season 2019-2020. (Credits: Kirsi Laine Photography)

Siiri Eskelinen, Dream Edges Senior
Next season, a new senior team will enter the competition. Dream Edges Senior coached by Siiri Eskelinen in Kaarina, will add even more competitiveness in Finland from next winter. If there is a chance to gain Olympic status, Siiri would be ready to move to a team size of 12 skaters in the future.

"At the beginning of the year, we tested a few elements with 12 skaters, starting with making elements in a completely different way than before. The attached elements were the most challenging, as reducing the number of skaters in them lost their spectacle but brought almost nothing to replace it. With the increased space in the sliding element and no hold-style step sequences, the possibilities were much more comfortable," she said.

The junior team Dream Edges is preparing to compete at the Senior level next season. (Credits: Kirsi Laine - 2020)

Siiri Eskelinen thinks it's an excellent decision to give teams time to try and adapt to this idea instead of forcing everyone to jump straight to the new model. She hopes that the series will remain a parallel series until the application process for the Olympics is fully completed. Thus, decisions about the future of the categories would be made only when it is known whether this reduction is sufficient to obtain a place at the Olympics, she suggested. 

With the introduction of Elite 12, Siiri sees an increase in speed as an opportunity, "especially when there is more space on the ice per skater and we would have the opportunity to see the huge arches and series of steps seen by ice dancers. Reducing the number of skaters is also expected to raise the skill level of teams at the top. On the other hand, smaller team sizes could increase the number of teams, which would be very welcome at the Finnish Championships level."

Finally, an idea shared by Siiri Eskelinen: why not creating with the biggest actual top synchro teams, two teams of 12 + 1 athletes who could train partially overlap and could travel together for competitions by sharing, for example, the ice and travel costs?

Therefore, it is full of hope and fears that the five coaches of the Finnish senior teams have shared with their federation their opinion on the introduction of Elite 12 as of next season. Read the full article (in Finnish) on the Skating Finland website.

The coaches, therefore, hope to see this project move forward, but with the greatest caution.

Checker and translater: Marjaana Saartenoja