Figure skaters are airtime addicts | Figure Skating | CBC Sports

Figure SkatingFigure skaters are airtime addicts

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012 | 07:14 PM

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Kurt Browning, shown here soaring through the air at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Hamilton in 1993, says he loves the challenge of jumps. (File/Canadian Press) Kurt Browning, shown here soaring through the air at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Hamilton in 1993, says he loves the challenge of jumps. (File/Canadian Press)

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The Grand Prix season is about to kick off with Skate America and then the skating fans will have something to sink their teeth into. Young skaters making a charge and old... oops, I mean, veteran skaters making a comeback.  (I should talk!). Yes, if you love skating then this is a fun time of year. Before we get into all of the conversations about what coach and a new program and an old outfit and bad skates and so on and so on, I want to just visit the jumps alone.
The Grand Prix season is about to kick off with Skate America and then the skating fans will have something to sink their teeth into. Young skaters making a charge and old, oops, veteran skaters making a comeback. (I should talk )!! Yes, if you love skating this is a fun time of year. 

Before we get into those conversations about what coach and new program and old outfit and bad skates and so on and so on, I want to visit one of my passions. The jump. 

Before I discovered the power of a deep leaning edge or the exhilaration of a standing ovation (I used to get those sometimes) I must admit I loved the jumps! I liked the challenge, the reaction from my friends and seeing the marks on the ice to see how far I had flown. Now that I think of it, I still check the ice to this day. By the way, the marks you make in the ice on takeoff and landing can also give you tons of information about what went right or wrong in the jump. 

Jumps are fascinating. I marvel at how far we can fly across that slippery surface. I am not a great jumper when it comes to how much distance I cover, but when I was young I sure had hang time.

What is the difference between a huge jump and a medium one? About two tenths of a second. That's all. When I think of how hard I worked in my life for that extra few tenths of a second of air time it seems like the payback was not worth it. Or was it? Yes it definitely was! 

I can feel the difference while in the air between a big and a normal jump and even though it is so short, the fans can sense the difference too. 

No one can achieve greatness within their jumping unless they love it. Who wants to take the risk over and over and then over again to learn a jump unless they need, crave and love that feeling? Jumping is fun and when done correctly, does not hurt at all. 

What a good jump feels like


Have you ever been on an airplane and did not notice that you had landed? That is what a good jump feels like. When the arc of the jump matches the distance in a perfect equation created by Mother Nature and Einstein, it is as smooth as silk. 

Let me try to describe what a great jump feels like.

First off, there is the anticipation. As I pick up speed and enter my planned steps before the jump I should have a clear and open mind so I can focus on the correct speed, balance and preparation. 

The trouble is, I always seem to save a little bit of my concentration for the 'what if' factor.  'What if' I land it? 'What if' I fall? "What if' it hurts? This 'what if' factor is not a good thing and when it takes over in a show, or heaven forbid a competition, disaster awaits. 

No, the only thing going through my head should be a mixture of concentration and positive thoughts. 

I spent a few days with Joannie Rochette during a time when her jumps were getting the best of her. I did not talk to her about right arm up or reach back farther with your take off leg, but chatted with her about making friends with that jump. You see, I got the feeling she was not looking forward to doing that triple flip and when you have that feeling it gets the best of you.

She made friends with her jumps again and that helped her a little bit along her journey to Vancouver 2010.

"I need that jump. I want that jump. I own that jump". These are the thoughts every skater needs going in. As I gain speed I usually know before I leave the ice if I am going to do it or not. Then I take off.

Executing the plan

The take off gives me all the information I need to put a plan into place. The plan takes years to perfect, but less than a second to actually execute. 

Here's one scenario. The ice is perfect, I feel great and I hit my takeoff with perfect timing.  Well then there is the distinct possibility that I will go an inch or more higher than usual. Does that mean my usual timing in the air will be off and I'll try to land too soon? Nope, I feel that perfect training allows my instinct to kick in and I slow down my rotation or check out sooner in the air and float down to the ice. 

The same applies to a bad take off. I hate chippy hard ice and it plays mind games with me all the time. I can make a takeoff on chippy ice into a lousy takeoff just because I am worried about the ice. This is the stuff that turns a consistent skater into a mess during a competition. There isn't time in the jumps to have negative thoughts. 

Let's assume that I actually had the ice break out from underneath my toe pick on my takeoff and I did not get my usual trajectory. I can either give up and 'pop' out of my rotation or I can squeeze like my life depended on it and still get my rotations done in time to pull out to land.  This decision in an important moment is usually made by a factor called, " how bad do I really want to fight for this"!

Are you starting to get the idea of how much goes on in our heads while up there? In my recent competition in Japan I landed my double toe after my triple toe but my only thoughts were about how my first jump was not perfect like usual. I was pouting! 

My training took over and my body just did the double for me. Whew! 

Repetition is how we know the difference between two, three or four revolutions. I do not count my revolutions while jumping, it's all about an instinctive feeling that comes to a skater over time. 

Unlike dancers on stage, skaters do not 'spot' while turning. If you 'spot' then you actually leave your head as your body turns and then you spin your head quickly and spot again the same place you started looking at. Just watch a dancer pirouette and you will see them spot. 

Skaters do not usually do that because we turn too fast both in spins on the ice and certainly in jumps. I was working as a commentator with Dick Button and he said that a certain skater spots during their jumps. I took a calculated risk and called him on it. Bad move. The slow motion replays came and he was right. I did not think it was possible, but it just goes to show that everyone has their own way to get from A to B. Plus, I had to say he was right on the air!  Sigh.

The bulging butt

Each skater uses different tricks to help themselves out. Some like to jump close to the boards so they can sense the wall and it helps them keep straight in the air. Not me, I hate it. Some like to skate slower into certain jumps and some close their eyes in the air while some even twist their head like an owl while turning. Whatever style of jump, we all have one thing in common, the bulging butt!

Yes, that is what I wrote. The bulging butt. If you are doing a triple jump you are turning at a pretty good speed. I roughly estimate that if you can do four revolutions in less than a second, and that does not include the time it takes to get up in the air and the time to check out of the rotation, then I think we can safely say that you would reach speeds of 225-250 revolutions per minute if one is trying a four revolution jump. Yikes! Talk about acceleration! Zero to over 200 revs per minute and back down to zero again in less than a second. Amazing! See what I mean about using instincts? 

The first time I saw that I had bulging butt was in a picture in a newspaper, certainly not complimentary either. It was shocking! With speeds like that the forces put on the body can be seen in photographs of our faces, and yes our butts, as the pull of centrifugal forces work on the body. 

Speaking of forces on the body, what about the girls who are thrown four metres across the ice? When a pair team does a throw, everyone holds their breath a little for good reason.  They are massive! 

Her feet can be off the ice for over five metres. Remember though, the man does lift her before heaving, I mean throwing her, so the distance from when her blade leaves the ice to when it comes back down is longer than the distance she is alone up there. OK, that got complicated, just remember it is very big. 

I was thrown years ago and even tried a few quad throws. It was spooky because without my own takeoff I had no reference for how high I was in the air. 

So, I will quote a professional and one of the very very best ever, Jamie Sale. Jamie, Olympic Pair Champion, gave the credit to her partner David Pelletier, saying that she was consistent because he was consistent. Seems David is so good at throwing her that she always had the same situation each time. She was on autopilot up there and had her timing down to a science.

Forces on the body

As far as forces on the body are concerned, it seems it is all or nothing. When done correctly a jump or throw can feel so natural and easy. But when things go wrong it goes very wrong.  All the rules of physics have to be answered to, especially the one about what goes up must come down. 

What makes a good jump? I think it is how the whole equation comes together. Each skater has their own style. For example, some point their toes in the air. I remember former Canadian Champion Tracey Wainman pointed her toes beautifully while jumping. 

A skater with great jumps should look relaxed skating in and out of the jump. They take speed across the ice before and after as well and have the confidence to include the jump in the choreography of the program.

So, cross your fingers for your favourite skaters and let the jumps fly. Now I have to go to the rink and try not to over think after writing this novel! 

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