At the 1902 World Skating Championships, Britain’s Madge Syers became the first woman to compete in the otherwise all-male competition. She earned a silver medal, then went on to win the national single skating event in 1903 and 1904.
Madge Cave was born in September 1881 in Kensington, London, and is one out of 15 children in her family. In addition to being a singles and pairs skater, she also was a swimmer and equestrienne. In 1899 she married Edgar Syers, her pairs partner and coach.
Madge competed in the all male competition at the 1902 World Championships because there was no rule saying that she couldn’t. She finished in second place behind Ulrich Salchow, who was so impressed with her skating he offered her his gold medal. After that event the ISU banned women from the World Championships because it was difficult to compare men and women, there may be bias among the judges if they are attached to a particular woman, and the long dresses women wore made it difficult to see their feet. Madge solved the dress problem by becoming the first woman to wear dresses at a mid-calf length.
In 1903 the very first British Figure Skating Championships were held, in which Madge took the gold medal the first two years. At the time, it was a mixed male and female competition, and the events were not separated until 1905. She also won the first two years of the Ladies World Championship competition, held in for the first time in 1906.
The 1908 Summer Olympics were the first Olympics to offer figure skating events. Madge won the ladies event and placed third in the pairs event with her husband. She retired from skating after the Olympics.
Madge and Edgar also co-wrote two books. The first was written in 1908 and called The Book of Winter Sports. The second was written in 1913, titled The Art of Skating (International Style). She died from heart failure in September 1917.
Madge Syers was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1981.