Until 1976, the Olympic program only included three figure skating disciplines: ladies, men’s, and pairs skating.
But ice dance, then known as “rhythmic skating,” had been part of every European and world championships since 1952. It was a sanctioned discipline of the International Skating Union (ISU), the governing body which oversaw international figure skating competition, including at the Olympics.
The rules of the Games allowed the 1968 Grenoble Olympic organizing committee to add two demonstration sports to their program: ice dance was one of them. Medals would not be awarded, but it would be a step toward ice dance’s inclusion at subsequent Games – a goal of the ISU.
The top 10 couples from the previous year’s world championships were invited to participate in the demonstration.
The sport, often described as ballroom dancing on ice, was received with great enthusiasm by the spectators, the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the ISU, according to the official report of the 1968 Olympics. From the report: “Although it does not include leaps, it requires intensive training and perfect self-control. The quality of the skating, the speed, style and harmony of the pair, are all very important.”
The President of the IOC, Avery Brundage, said of the discipline: “It is sport, culture, art, and beauty.”
Ice dance did not make it into the 1972 Olympic program in Sapporo, Japan, but it became an official sport at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. The first medals were awarded to husband and wife team Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov from the Soviet Union (gold), Irina Moiseyeva and Andrei Minenkov, also from the Soviet Union (silver), and Americans Colleen O’Connor and James Millns with the bronze.
That bronze was the only ice dance medal the Americans would win for 30 years, before Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto took silver at the 2006 Torino Olympics. Ever since, U.S. ice dancers have been created a formidable legacy: Meryl Davis and Charlie White won silver in 2010 and gold in 2014, and more than one U.S. duo will be favored to land on the podium in PyeongChang.