Jan 26, 2012

Repost: skating terms tutorial

I'm a hard case, so I've already been watching Nationals on Ice Network all week-- yes, I sit through Novice Pattern Dance. But for the more casual fans, here's a brief guide to skating terms.  Also see my post on understanding the commentators.

Here's the original terminology post, from February 2010:

As always, every four years, everyone's talking about figure skating. I won't even dignify the "it can't be a sport because sequins" haterz. Icemom said it pretty well already anyway.

This was the first games I watched with the world, so to speak, via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and the SM links on the Olympic site. And it was quite a revelation. I spend my days around figure skaters, former figure skaters, parents of figure skaters and people who work at skating rinks.

We all know a LOT about figure skating.

What I didn't know is that other figure skating fans don't know a lot about figure skating. I always figured that if you're a fan you know the difference between a lutz, a loop, a toe loop and a flip. I figured you could tell when a spin is slow, or when a skater has superior edge quality.

But if Twitter is any guide, this is not the case. People are utterly mystified by the scoring because they really don't think of it as sport-- they think of it as art, and everyone knows, as the old joke says that with art, you don't have to understand it, you just have to know what you like. And people LIKE Patrick Chan. They liked some of the also-rans who scored low.

So here's a quick tutorial. You can really train yourself to spot these subtleties, and it will help you understand that, yes, it's a sport.

There are 8 basic jumps, in order of difficulty- Salchow, Toe Walley, Toe Loop, Loop, Walley, Flip, Axel, Lutz. We've started seeing single walleys again, in footwork and leading into Flips, because it increases the difficulty. It's a funny choppy little jump against the direction of the edge. I haven't seen a toe walley in decades, so don't worry about them. Skaters love it when performers do walleys, and the announcers will go crazy if someone does one.

Edge jumps lift off the gliding edge. Toe assisted jumps use the toe of the free leg as a vault. On an inside edge the skater's upper body will be facing into the circle he or she is on. On an outside edge the skaters body will be facing out of the circle he's on.

All jumps described for counter-clockwise skaters (only 1 in 15 or so skaters are cw, Alissa Czisny being one). For CCW, same edge, other foot.

Salchow is an edge jump off a left back inside edge. Toe Loop: toe assisted jump off right back outside edge (RBO). Loop, edge jump RBO. Flip, toe assisted LBInside. A footwork sequence into a flip is a required element in singles skating. Actual back flips ala Michael Weiss, Surya Bonaly and Scott Hamilton are illegal (and I once saw someone faceplant out of a back flip, so I'm with them on this one). Axel, edge jump with forward take off, LFO edge (everyone recognizes this one because of the dramatic forward launch). Lutz, toe assist, LBO. Lutz is a "counter jump," that is it changes rotational direction at the launch. The edge traces a clockwise circle, but the jump rotates CCW. Lutz is the jump with the long entry edge. When you hear someone talking about "telegraphing" a jump, this is the most common jump they're thinking of.

It matters if the skater takes off on the correct edge, because it changes the difficulty of the jump. It matters if the jump is underrotated. It's not a triple if it doesn't go around 3 times, just like a touchdown doesn't count if it doesn't cross the goal line, no matter how long the run or the pass was, or how elegant the player.

If you get good at watching, you can tell what jump is coming up by the skater's body language and positions. One of the wonderful things about YuNa Kim is that you cannot tell what jump she is going to do, in fact sometimes you can't even tell that she is setting up for a jump. Kwan had this ability as well; it's one of the things that makes their skating look so "easy."

A jump combination is two or more jumps in a row with no connecting steps. A jump sequence is any number of jumps with connecting steps between any of them. The little half and whole rotation hops that skaters do don't get points for jumping, but are counted as footwork and transition.

Edge quality
Edge quality refers to the skater's control of their blade. Someone with good edge quality skates with minimal snowy curves, no ankle wobble or stuttering, and steady-as-a-rock upper body. You can really see this on the ladies' spiral sequences. Good edge quality also gives you clean turns and steps (no scraping sound). Edge quality is the defining skill of a high level skater. You don't get the big jumps without the edge quality. As I like to tell my little skaters, my 90-year-old granny can jump, but she can't hold a back outside edge all the way around a face-off circle on a single push.

Quickie on spins
There are three basic spin positions: upright, camel, sit. Upright inludes those leg stretchers, and Biellmans (the upright backbend). That hideous spin where the skater bends at the waist FORWARDS and grabs a foot (butt is now sticking up in the air) is actually an upright spin, as is a layback. The camel is the one in the arabesque position. Skaters wave their arms around and keep changing the g*ddam position because the scoring system gives them points for multiple "features" i.e. waving their arms around and changing positions. UPDATE: Since I first wrote this a "feature" has been added to allow skaters to maintain a spin position for 8 rotations and get extra points for doing so.

The other disciplines
Pairs skating is mostly singles skills with the addition of lifts and throws, which makes you wonder why so many failed singles skaters switch to pairs. Man, if you can't do the singles, you're not going suddenly be a genius at pairs.

Ice dance focuses on partnering and edge quality. UPDATE: It used to be the most demanding from a training standpoint, because dancers had to master four programs a year-- 2 compulsories, a short program (the Original Dance) and a long program (the Free Dance). Now it's just Short Dance and Free Dance at the Junior and Senior levels, although Juv, Intermediate and Novice still have to do the pattern dances. The ISU chooses which compulsories will be skated; everyone trains the same ones. Don't get me started on how Code of Points has ruined ice dancing, we'll be here all night.


  1. I'll be the one to say it, since you've been around skating forever and this won't be obvious: even those of us who skate a bit can't always tell some of the jumps apart. In theory, I know what all of them are. I can do a (not very good) salchow & toe loop, half flip & half lutz (hence theoretically, I get the set up). Loop (and obviously axel) are the ones I haven't started to try yet but also are the most recognizable. And yet, jumps in competition come up so fast with so little telegraphing when done well, that I am not always sure if I've just seen a lutz or a flip. It's fun to test myself in recognizing all these moves, but quite honestly, people who do them THAT well don't exist at my rink, so I don't see that kind of execution ever except on TV. I think part of the reason that fans get confused is that even the "also-rans" are far better than anyone at most local rinks.

  2. Hehehe I want to hear the ice dance rant... although I am pretty sure I know what you are going to say and I am pretty sure I would agree with you 100%. Makes me happy I am in the sport that still competes compulsory dance and compulsory figures at the world championships.

  3. I do too (completely agree btw)...plus a tutorial on how to tell the difference between rockers/brackets/counters at speed would be nice (I know the difference in my head but with 8 sorts of each I just cannot call them at anything like speed - let alone in a step sequence).

    1. I once did a 2-hour seminar on Technical Calling, and they have to call every single turn in the foot work. They *do* have a guide from the coach telling them what's supposed to be there but they have to make an instant judgment as to whether that's what's there (and sometimes it gets changed--they don't have to announce if it's been changed, and there's no penalty for not doing what's on the cheat sheet) AND WRITE IT DOWN while watching. It is *murderously* difficult. I really try not to complain (too much) about the tech calls; those guys are nearly gods as far as I'm concerned.

  4. Is it just me or are the jumps described for CCW skaters, not CW? CCW being the norm?

    1. I just walked through them as described and I'm pretty sure I've got them right. Yes CCW is the dominant direction. Anyone else want to comment on this? Am I describing the jumps correctly?

    2. I think this lead-in is causing confusion:

      "All jumps described for clockwise skaters (only 1 in 15 or so skaters are ccw, Alissa Czisny being one). For CCW, same edge, other foot."

      Should be the other way around, no?

    3. Thanks-- fixed. Yes, I knew what I meant to say (CW) but didn't say it!

  5. Figure skating is a sport. It's a sport I love participating in at the rec level, but I've stopped watching it on TV, and can't be bothered to keep up with all the rule changes.

    The ISU has turned competitive figure skating into judged entertainment. (The loss of the compulsory dance was the end). The NJS is just awful. I figure a fall on a jump ought to be a FAIL. Not doing so, but giving skaters points for an 'attempt' just turns a competition into a splat fest.
    Also the focus on jumping has really degraded skating skills. I'd love to do a statistical analysis of the time spent on two feet vs one foot for skating programs in the Olympics. I swear I see a lot more two foot skating than I used to. And you don't see stuff like Barbara Scotts alternating axels anymore. (There's a woman that could pass FS10. ) NJS has made everything the same, and everything's become dull.
    Yet the French Judge is still judging the last I heard.

    1. I wouldn't say IJS has ruined skating, but it has changed it, and frankly the changes don't go far enough. If you're going to make it a point system that rewards the athletic output, then make it a skills competition on the lines of gymnastics, with the program being a final all-around. I would have absolutely no problem watching a jumps, a spins, a footwork, and a moves in the field event, analogous to parallel bars, floor exercise, balance beam, vault. I think you'd see amazing 4 and 5 and 6 jump combos, or 200 foot sequences, or quints. I think you'd see spins that last for a minute. Of course, suggesting this is a fun way to watch skating coaches' heads explode.

  6. Xan, the jump descriptions are correct for CCW skaters. You said you were going to describe the jumps from a CW perspective but actually did the opposite, so I think that's what has people confused. Also, Alissa skates CW, not CCW.

    1. Ah-- good catch. That mistake falls under the "do what I mean not what I say" category. As you can tell from the phrasing I meant to point out that Alissa jumps in the non-dominant direction! Fixed.

  7. Thanks everyone! I clearly need an editor!