Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Axel: The Most Difficult Jump

The Axel is a jump in figure skating, named after the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen (1855-1938) who was the first to perform this feat in 1882. A single Axel consists of 1 and a half rotations in the air. For a jump with counterclockwise rotation, it has a takeoff from the left forward outside edge and a landing on the right back outside edge; this can be reversed for a clockwise jump. The Axel can also be done as a double jump with two and a half rotations, or as a triple with three and a half rotations. While quad jumps are popular among some of the male skaters, Miki Ando is the only female skater who has landed a quad jump during practice.

In order to perform an Axel, the skater typically approaches the jump on a right back outside edge in a strongly held check position before stepping onto a left forward outside edge. The skater vaults over the toe pick of the left skate and springs up into the jump with the right leg. Then the skater brings the left leg through to cross in front of the right in what is known as a back spin position, to bring the center of rotation around the right side of the body; this is often described as a weight shift in the air. When the skater makes a mistake in the timing of the jump such that the blade does not grip or slips completely off the edge, this often result in a fall.

The Axel is considered one of the hardest jumps because it requires tremendous strength and the ability to rotate quickly. Computerized studies of skaters performing double and triple Axels have shown that skaters typically do not achieve quite as much height on the triple Axel as they do on the double. This may seem counterintuitive, since a higher jump ought to give a skater more time to complete the rotation in the air. Often, while executing the triple Axel, the skater does not take such a big "step up" in order to pull in to the rotation position as quickly

People are built differently. Different sized skaters would need different approach velocities to complete three axial revolutions. It has to do with the radius of one’s widest part; the stomach area. The governing equation here is the angular acceleration, which is proportional to the inverse of the radius of revolution.
Set the stage. Make sure that your pre-stage is correct. The pre-stage is where you do an angular slide, and then do the preparation spins just before you do that Axel jump.

Make sure you feel that edge as you prepare for the jump. If you don't feel your edge, you won't feel as confident on landing on the correct edge and the whole jump will suffer. You may even fall. It is afterall an edge jump. You need to control the speed of the spin, accelerate on the preparation spins moderately, and accelerate the spins very fully as soon as you takeoff to do the three revolutions, and then, with strong control, decelerate the spin speed on your landing so you don't "overrotate" , or make a two-footed landing.

Canadian skater Vern Taylor was the first to land a triple Axel in competition at the 1978 World Figure Skating Championships. It has since become a standard jump for male competitors as well. The first women to land the jump in competition were Midori Ito (1989 World Figure Skating Championship) and Tonya Harding (1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships). Yukari Nakano landed a triple Axel at Skate America in October 2002. Kimmie Meissner landed a triple Axel at the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and Mao Asada became the first female skater to land two triple Axels in the same program at the 2005 Japanese Championships.

American pair skaters Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, Jr. became the first pair to perform a throw triple Axel in competition at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and then they executed the jump at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Keep in mind, the most important part of the jump is having exactly the right entry. The right entry has a slight hook and no skid.

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