LEXINGTON — Who are the Haydenettes?
They are not the Rockettes, famous for dancing at Radio City Music Hall. Nor the Raisinets, which are coated in milk chocolate.
The Haydenettes are the Boston Celtics of synchronized skating. They’ve won a record 21 national championships. No other team has won more than three. They’ve also captured three consecutive bronze medals in the world championships.
The Lexington-based team will perform as Team USA 1 in the 2013 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships, Friday and Saturday at Agganis Arena. Twenty teams from 15 countries will compete in the sold-out event. (Team practices are Wednesday and Thursday. Those at Walter Brown Arena are open to the public).
The Haydenettes started in 1979 as a bunch of Lexington High School kids skating in a community center donated by Josiah Willard Hayden. Lynn Benson founded the team and served as head coach until 2005. In the beginning there were few competitions, with fewer rules.
“Really, everything has changed,” said Benson, who still returns to practices to rally the troops. “Now the team is internationally recognized, they are recruited from across the country and all but two are not from Lexington. They come from all over the country. They’re mostly college-aged students.”
The squad is made up of 20 skaters, of which four are alternates.
“You have to be good at everything,” said Haydenette coach Saga Krantz. “You have to be a good single skater, ice dancer, and a pair skater, and that’s what makes a great synchronized skater. You also have to be extremely good socially to support people when things aren’t going good.”
Krantz wants the Haydenettes to be graceful and have courage but also to be separate individuals.
“I don’t want them to be alike, I want them to work together,’’ she said. “I love the energy of different personalities.”
Krantz choreographs the routines, which are more complicated than traditional figure skating.
The Haydenettes are hip. They dance to Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Jay-Z. They go all out, all the time.
At a recent practice session in Lexington, 16 skaters whiz by from different directions. It looks like a four-way intersection without stoplights. They go full speed. One false move and it’s a train wreck.
Krantz, who was an award-winning synchronized skater and director in her native Finland, knows the dangers.
“It’s full of risks; anything could happen when you’re attached to all the other skaters on the ice at the same time,’’ she said. “If one person falls, the chance that they take someone else with them is huge.”
Then there are the multiple lifts.
“The blade is so dangerous that when the girls go into the lifts, if anything goes wrong, head injuries and cuts from the blade happen,’’ Krantz said. “You have to be alert, every single time.”
In the world championships, teams get a one-minute warmup and then skate two programs, a short program of 2:50 and a freestyle of up to 4:40, which must include nine elements. If something goes wrong, there is no timeout to regroup.
“It’s a serious sport,” said Krantz. “They look cute and girly on the ice, they may giggle, but this, for them, is what they’ve been thinking of for years.’’
These athletes know how to handle pressure.
“They’re well-educated, they’ve done a lot of psychology training, so they won’t be throwing up beforehand,’’ said Krantz. “They will be 100 percent focused on performing well on the ice, getting to the podium, and helping the ISU push us towards the Olympics.”
The International Skating Union designated synchronized skating as a figure skating discipline in 1994 and the first world championships were held in 2000. But it remains the only figure skating discipline not yet part of the Olympics.
“That’s what we all dream for,” says Noelle Pearson, 21, a senior at Framingham State University.
Synchro’s popularity is rapidly increasing. In 2012, there were 579 synchronized skating clubs in the United States, according to US Figure Skating.
Still, there isn’t any live television coverage of the championships. Slowly, the media perception of the sport is changing. The Haydenettes skated last month on the “Today” show.
But most sports fans don’t know their names.
Wouldn’t they be better off being solo artists such Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen?
“There’s so few single skaters that make it to the top,’’
“There’s also something to be said that when you win and skate great, you can share it with somebody, instead of being in your own kingdom,’’ said Krantz. “This is for people that want to do something together and be something together.’’
The Haydenettes have traveled the world. They have been to France, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Hungary.
“The best part is we can all calm each others’ nerves,” said Kelly Ottaviano, 19, a Haydenette and communications major at Merrimack College. “We’ve already skated together for five years.’’
Haydenette Jenna Longo, an accounting major at Bentley University, said their passion is off the charts.
“We wake up thinking of it and go to bed dreaming about it,” Longo said. “A lot of my friends are Division 1 hockey players and their jaws just drop to the ground when they see us skate, they are so impressed with the athleticism and precision.”
But more important is their team motto.
“Perform beautifully in life.”Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.