Feb 10, 2014

I'm supposed to watch the edge. Um, what's an edge?

Forget the edges. Forget the toe picks. Forget flutzing.

If you're watching the Olympics and can't tell what jump they're doing, here's some advice:

Don't worry about it.

Seriously, unless you're planning to become a fan, and watch all the time, and look at the protocols (never mind), it literally doesn't matter what jump they're going to do. They all look alike in the air. This is because they all ARE alike in the air. Once the skater has achieved orbit, the position and rotation and landing are identical for every jump.

Okay, incipient geeks, yes I hear you-- some skaters rotate to the left, some skaters rotate to the right. This changes the dominant side, but not the basic position. 'K? Can I get back to my post now?

Ditto the footwork-- 3-turns, choctaws, counters, rockers, brackets, walleys, twizzles, I could start making up words at this point and you'd have no clue.

But it doesn't matter. Just enjoy.

Now, that said, if you really want to know what's going on, forget about edges and toe picks. You have to watch a lot of skating to be able to pick up on this in the fraction of a second in which it occurs. You want to watch the entrance.

We'll start with the easy one. Everyone recognizes the axel because it takes off forwards. (Skating geeks shut up-- I know that all jumps take off more or less forwards. You're just confusing the issue.) The axel has no backwards set up. In fact, doing a challenging backwards pattern before entering the forward take-off edge will earn you points. (Listen for comments about "difficult entry to that axel.")

And this is the secret of recognizing jumps. You'll often notice that the commentators know what the athlete is going to do before they do it. This is partly because they have a cheat sheet, but also because they know the set ups-- they are primed to watch for a certain jump because the set up is part of the skill. Skaters who don't "telegraph" their jumps (Yuna Kim, Jason Brown, Patrick Chan, and Michelle Kwan come to mind) are a lot of fun to watch because of this; it is also one of the things that makes their programs flow so beautifully.

Technically a toe-assisted counter jump off a back outside edge. Forget it. Watch for a long shallow edge, usually the longest entry edge of all the jumps, and skaters tend not to precede it with footwork. This is because it is a "counter" jump-- the rotation is in the opposite curve of the entry edge (for people who jump to the left, it will be a clockwise entry edge and a ccw rotation). This is changing, because any difficult entry gets you points. Again, listen for the comment about difficult entry.

Skaters often put the lutz in a corner, to give them the maximum entry distance. One of the things that used to make Yuna Kim's lutzes difficult to spot were short entry edges, and she would place them in the middle of the ice, where no one ever does lutzes.

The lutz is the jump where skaters put one or both arms over their heads, the "Tano" or "Rippon" positions. I've also seen this done with the axel.

This is the jump with the most "edge calls"-- taking off from the wrong edge-- because the counter rotation can force the foot onto the wrong edge at the last minute if you don't time it just right.

The flip is a toe assisted jump from a back inside edge, but watch for a long forward edge and/or a short (two-three moves) footwork sequence before the skater does a quick turn for the back take off.  Ironically, after judges starting really hammering skaters for "flutzing" their lutzes (flipping to an inside edge at the last moment, which makes it a flip), skaters fixed that and started "flupping" their flips-- turning to an outside edge, making it a lutz. The only reason you care, is because a take off from the wrong edge is one of the things that mysteriously lowers the scores.

Outside edge jump with no toe assist. However, you want to watch for another longish entry, on a much tighter curve than either the Lutz or the Flip. Skaters will often cross their feet and appear to be lifting off a crossed two-foot glide. This is also a common second or third jump in a combination.

Toe loop
Same entry as the loop, but with a toe assist. This is one of the hardest jumps to spot, as most skaters find it easy, so they throw it in willy nilly, especially if they've missed an earlier jump and need to add points. It's a common first quad jump, and also common in the "bonus"-- the second half of the program where you get extra points for every jump. Another common jump in combination.

A common "warm up" jump (the other is the double axel), that is, a jump in the first few seconds of the program to get the feel of the ice. This is another "edge" jump, with no toe assist, often telegraphed by a very curvy entry edge and an upper body wind up. This and the toe loop are generally the only quads you'll see (this has to do with the actual number of rotations in the air, which is fewer than four, trust me.) Matthew Savoie used to do a triple (quad?) salchow out of a back hydroblade position. Amazing.

Footwork sequence: jumps
Walleys, bunny hops, albrights (also called scissor and mazurka), splits, falling leafs (falling leaves?), Russian splits (Jason Brown anyone?), and this year one of the women has a one-foot axel in her footwork. (Can't remember who it was, but I almost dropped my coffee.) These generally don't count as jumps; they're calculated in the necessary turns and changes of direction for the footwork.

Footwork sequence: turns
WHO CARES. This is the part of the program where the skaters generally have the chance to create some art, to connect with the audience, to sell the program, to tell a story. If they aren't doing this, if they're just "technical" skaters with the requisite number of turns, edges, changes, etc. then they are doing it wrong.

Any questions?


  1. I saw a triple axel take off from a rocker. I about fell off my chair. I kept hitting rewind to watch it over and over.

    1. WOW! Who did that?

      My favorite jump entry is Jason Brown's Y spiral into his triple lutz. Like "no big deal, it's just a 3Z". That's just insane.

  2. Hey! I am getting pretty good at recognizing these things. Spending years in a rink watching my kid attempt to master them helps...

  3. Love having you back, Xan!

    On the part about throwing in toe loops... wow, I've never heard of that! I didn't know skaters sometimes altered their programs. I'd heard of it happening once or twice, e.g. a guy who forgot his final spin, and people on YouTube comments were saying "why didn't he just do an x instead of standing there?" but I didn't know this was actually something people did. How common is it?

  4. Actually, it's very common. Skaters replace quads with triples, tack a third jump onto a combo in order to make up points lost in a fall, etc. The most famous added jump was the final 3-2-2 in Oksana Baiul's Olympic performance-- not only did she add a jump, she added an entire 3-jump combo in the last 2 seconds of the performance. Listen to the commentators-- they will generally say "oh my sheet says X but he did Y"

  5. I discovered take the expected elements are listed on the Sochi Figure Skating website under each skater's name. Since we watch the live broadcast (recorded and watched after school) rather than the prime time, we can see the list of planned elements and eventual performed elements for every skater. Knowing what is coming makes it much more interesting. Trying to decipher the abbreviations also are entertaining... Best of all is catching what Johnny Weir is wearing each day.

  6. Hi, I've just discovered your blog and I'm enjoying reading it. It's always nice to discover fellow adult skaters. There don't seem to be too many blogging in the UK. This is a great run-down for people trying to understand what they're seeing.