Sep 15, 2010

WHAT is he talking about?

As we move into the competitive season, I'm starting to think about the phrases you hear from the commentators. "Features" "Clean landing" "Extension" "Wrap" "Run of the Blade" When I hear these I know what I'm looking for, because I'm a figure skating expert. But what about the non-skater casual fan?

When I watch hockey or football, I find the comments make me more, not less confused. It took me quite literally years to figure out what a "hat trick" is, and I'm still not entirely convinced I've got it right. I'm so confused by football terminology that I can't even come up with an example of a phrase that confuses me. So here's a little lexicon, and this week I'll add short posts on how to apply these to your own skating or teaching as well.


Features are extra difficulty added to specific skills. Every skill has them, but you most commonly hear about them in spins because it's probably been the most obvious change in what figure skating looks like now. A feature is any variation to the basic position or rotation. So if you're doing an upright spin and wave your arms (creating a helicoptor effect), that's a feature. A different foot position is a feature, as is changing the spinning edge. (Different from a position change-- that's a thing in itself. There are four basic positions-- upright, sit, camel and layback. Features occur within each basic position.) A classic "forward" spin is actually on a back inside edge, but you can do any spin on any edge, and changing from one edge to another without losing speed or center is difficult, and gains points. All those "haircutter" contortionist postitions are a feature. You can only use any given feature once per program, which is why you get these awful can't-keep-my-eye-on-what's-happening flailing spins. I was happy to learn that there is a new feature this year-- 8 rotations in one position-- and you can use it as often as you want throughout the program. So we'll be seeing longer spins this year. And because extra rotations take time up in the program, you're also going to see some warp-speed rotating. Nice.

Clean landing
This is probably the most commonly used, and abused, phrase in figure skating commentary. It has come to mean a landing that is fully rotated, but originally it meant just what it sound like-- a landing that didn't kick up any snow or spray, i.e. "clean". Perforce, an underrotated landing won't be clean in this classic sense. The underrotation itself scrapes and gouges the ice. Other things to watch for that make a clean landing are a straight, upright back position (no pitching forward or twisting) and a held edge. Fussy choreography following a jump is often the coach's "fix" for a jump that the skater can't check (i.e. stop the rotation). Michelle Kwan was a genius at the saved landing. Watch her free leg cross behind her landing leg sometime-- she's having difficulty checking the rotation.

Just what it sounds like-- using the full range of motion of arms, hands, legs, feet, and neck, especially in held positions. The classic extension move is the arabesque or spiral, of course, but the best skaters will demonstrate good extension on everything. That blurry tight back scratch spin is a function of good extension, with all extremities pulled in and as tight as they can go. Watch for better expression in this as well this year. The ISU Judging System has changed the spiral sequence to encourage long full extension rather than a series of fussy features. As one judge said to me "we got tired of ugly spirals." Spirals will now be 6 to 8 seconds in a single position (with edge changes) or two positions of 3-4 seconds each. Hallelujah.

A wrap is actually an error. While not specifically wrong, it affects rotation and ruins the beauty of the air position. Watch for a very high free leg with the knee sticking out during the jump's air time. It's very difficult both to spin fast and to land cleanly when you "wrap" during a jump.

Run of the blade
This skill comes to the fore in the men's Moves in the Field skills, the women's spirals, and in footwork. It means smooth, snowless glide. Watch for skaters whose glides don't stutter or wobble, have no loss of speed, and for footwork sequences with clear, obvious, snow-free curves and turns. Since I picked on Michelle Kwan for her questionable landings, I'll pull her out here as the queen of the glide. No one demonstrates this ability better. It's created through the skaters' understanding of which part of the blade to put in contact with the ice. Since a blade is a rocker, i.e. curved on the bottom, you can press the back, middle, or front of the blade, plus either the inside or outside edge, to create different turns, to aid acceleration, and to emphasize flow.

Underrotated, formerly known as "cheated"
Jumps are scored based on the difficulty of the entry, and the number of rotations in the air.  An underrotated jump is more than 1/4 of a turn short of full rotation, and almost always has to be reviewed by the live video in the judges' station. It is the main cause of delays in announcing the scores, as the judges review selected jumps.

What commentator's phrase has confused you?


  1. Helpful post! Thanks. By the way, did you know there's not only a "hat trick" in hockey, but also a "natural hat trick" and a "Gordie Howe hat trick." In case you're wonderin'...

  2. I feel slightly sick to my stomach now...