The art of skating on ice dates back to the early origins of mankind. It is unclear exactly where skating originated; ancient cultures in various regions strapped animal bones to their feet to facilitate crossing frozen lakes and streams. This practice was common with the Vikings in Scandinavia, and many Viking bone-skates have been found all across Europe.

In the 14th century, bone was replaced with waxed wood, to improve the glide of the skates. However, the skates still did not have a sharp edge necessary for a skate push-off against the ice. Skaters would carry a pole to direct their movement. This type of skate was later improved with flat iron runners, and became very popular in Holland.

In the 15th century, the skate was drastically improved by replacing the flat runners with a narrow double edged blade. It is again unclear where the development of the narrow blade originated. It may have been developed in Edinburgh, Scotland at the end of the 15th century, but Dutch archaeologists have found early skates that probably predate these by many years. The blade of the skate was put on a wooden frame, that could be strapped to a boot. Remarkably, this type of skate was virtually unchanged for many centuries, and can still be found. In Holland they are called "Friese Doorlopers" (translated: "Frisian Walk-ons").

The sharp blade on the skate allowed for the typical skating movement called the Dutch Roll: the push-off with one skate while gliding on the other. Skating became tremendously popular in Holland and many other European countries. In the 17th century, the first speed skating club was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the beginning of competitive skating; the first race, a 24 kilometer run was organized in Fens, England in 1763.

The traditional speed skating competition over fixed distances started in 1889 in Holland. Skaters competed over 4 distances: 500, 1500, 5000 and 10000 m. These are the distances that are still on the Olympic program. In 1892, the International Skating Union (ISU) was created (again in Holland), to promote the various skating disciplines: speed-skating, ice hockey, figure skating, and short-track skating.

Skating had already made it across the Atlantic around 1850. In the U.S., several improvements were made to the skate that allowed the development of figure skating. The all steel clamp-on skate was invented by E. V. Bushnell of Philadelphia, PA. This model was improved by famous ice dancer Jackson Haines, who developed a skate with a two-plate metal blade that was attached permanently to a boot. This model allowed for jumps and spins. Even more elaborate jumps were possible through the addition of a toe-pick (1870's). A final improvement of the figure-skate was done in 1914, by John E. Strauss, (St. Paul, MN). Strauss invented a lighter and stronger blade that could be used for triple (and nowadays even quadruple) jumps.

The speed skate was also further developed from the early wooden models. All the wood was replaced by a metal blade on a metal frame, attached directly to the boot. With this type of skate, high speeds (up to 40 MPH) can be attained. The latest development however came around 1997 with the re-introduction of the klap skate; this type of skate was originally developed in the 1930s, but speed skaters have only recently discovered their advantages over traditional skates.

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