I find I keep trying to pick apart what all the figure skaters are doing when they fling themselves around. It's not easy at YouTube resolution. The easiest ones for me to follow are usually the dancers. Brian Boitano looks great, but most of the stuff he's known for is strictly skating -- you couldn't do any of it without the momentum you build while zooming around on ice -- and it intersects little if at all with the kind of kinematic vocabulary I already have.

A lot of them, even at Olympic levels, are sort of stylistically-samey. Many of the girls are dancers, but someone has obviously been pestering them to skate and mayyyybe show off a bit of ballet, because few of them get to do anything really flash. Jumpers seem to be especially prized, which is a bit irksome. Are they figure skaters or show horses? On the flipside of that, it's apparently just a blanket assumption that all of the men can jump like fleas and that none of them are going to want to do anything but land a quadruple something and then spin for a while.

Dance experience among the men is most prevalent in the younger generation. Johnny Weir and Stéphane Lambiel are both dancers; they spot their slower turns and spins, which dancers do and skaters don't. (Spotting, in dance, is when you find a point out in space in the direction you intend to travel while spinning, and keep your eyes fixed on it as your body turns, whipping your head around only at the last moment. It's supposed to keep you going the right direction and keep you from getting dizzy. It never did me; the variable angular velocity just leaves me feeling nystagmic.) I don't think Plushenko is, but it's hard to tell, as he's also somewhat bats, and when he gets prodded for skating like a girl it's for entirely different reasons, usually the catchfoot stuff.

Jumps and spins are weirdly chiral. Most skaters do them counterclockwise. I don't know why -- it's not against the rules to go the other way, and a few skaters do. My guess would be it's because most people have a dominant leg and would want to do their takeoffs from that one, but who knows? I find it counterintuitive. It's not uncommon in dance to find that leaps and splits and the like are easier one way or the other, but the normal reaction to that is to train the weak side until you're more or less symmetrical. The fact that this has settled into standardization rather than obsessive pushing is interesting, considering how single-minded figure skaters can be about training other things.

Most skaters pick a direction and have done with it very early on, but evidently a very few of them don't. Stéphane Lambiel seems to do everything widdershins when people are scoring him on it, but in dance exhibitions where not every jump needs to be a technical tour-de-force, he's quite capable of spinning himself around in either direction. That actually explains a bit about why he keeps not only landing in shows with Johnny Weir, but getting used as a foil for him in group choreography -- Weir does all of his everything clockwise, basically because weird kid who partially taught himself, and Lambiel can either match him or counter-rotate. Also it's easier than trying to split them up, because seriously, invisible bungee cord.

Lambiel does a lot of noodling around in both directions while warming up, which helps a lot when I'm trying to work out which foot is going where. In this one, he's actually trying to land a jump combination (axel-... lutz? I think? it takes off going backwards with a big foot sweep backwards right before he springs) with a direction switch in the middle:

No reason, really. Lambiel retired from competitive skating years ago, when he decided he was kind of fond of his knees and would like it if they weren't completely destroyed. It's just that nobody's ever verifiably done one before, and it sounds neat. It's a bit clunky, as he has to take an extra step to change feet between the first landing and the second takeoff, which is probably why no one's ever bothered. He keeps whiffing the second jump when some collision between conscious effort and muscle memory prompts him to yank both feet way off the ice when he only means to pull up one. It looks fairly cool, except for the part where it isn't actually a proper jump, and also the part where he nearly falls over. Although, if we're being fair here, the part where he doesn't fall over kind of wraps back around to awesome.


  1. You might be interested in this (the tumblr isn't mine): http://simchiller.tumblr.com/post/73347606562/they-outlawed-this-move-just-because-she-was-the

    1. That is quite impressive. I'm guessing she had given up on winning anything and just gone to Nagano specifically to say 'go fuck yourselves' (well, 'allez vous faire foutre', she's French), because that is also a blatantly illegal costume she's wearing -- ladies are required to wear some kind of skirt that covers the hips and backside. The costume deduction isn't much and is irregularly applied, but if you're skating to win the Olympics, that's not a hit you take on purpose.

      I got hold of "Inside Edge" by Christine Brennan, where Bonaly is mentioned quite a bit as being someone routinely penalized for not matching what the judges thought a skater "should" be. There are no quotes from her directly -- I'm guessing she was overseas and unavailable for interviews, as most of the people Brennan quotes are either American or spend a lot of time in the US -- but there's a section where Brennan specifically points out that when Bonaly won Worlds and Tara Lipinski came in second, almost all of the press coverage was of the little blonde white girl. Lipinski felt that was...awkward, to say the least.

      Many of the skaters are quite bitter about being judged on their lives and personal presentation rather than their skating. Some of the most bitter ones are the ones that conform -- by coincidence, they happen to be white, straight, slim, photogenic, polite, not inclined to party, etc. and the judges still think it isn't good enough.


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