Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Take The Quad Out!

While the most exciting portions of figure skating routine (for some) are the jumps, these high-flying athletic moves are the ultimate feats of a skater’s ability. Jumps, in figure skating, come in two varieties, rotational and positional. Positional jumps are short jumps that display an artistic position in the air. The primary objective of rotational jumps is to rotate while airborne. In these jumps, the skater appears to spin in the air. Skaters’ routines are measured partly on rotational jumps. For a quad, skaters have to achieve maximum rotation. While skaters need to develop as much rotational energy as possible, it is important that they obtain the best possible rotational position during the airborne portion of a performance as well.

Dick Button landed the first triple in 1952. Kurt Browning of Canada landed the first quad in 1982. Today, the quad jumps have become required elements in the men’s program. Quad toe loops seem to be the most frequently attempted quad jumps. While many skaters credit Jozef Sabovchik of Slovakia with landing the first quad jump, in 1984, at the Winter Olympics. The first official quad was performed by Kurt Browning at the 1988 world championships. Suddenly the quad is the rage. How far will we go with those risky jumps? Do we want five six rotations in the air? Are we looking for as many revolutions until we run out of numerical prefixes? What is the limit of jumping possibilities? Is a quintuple toe loop or a quadruple Axel in our future?

The jump is called a quadruple toe loop, and it is performed by gliding backward on the right skate, planting the left toe pick, lifting off with an outside edge of the right skate, spinning four times and landing on the same outside edge of the right skate. Art, science, agility and strength have all been used in describing skaters. However, it takes a high degree of difficulty to achieve the quad. The key is to get the optimal combination of height and rotation. There are four key events for the quad. Toe-pick: the instant the toe pick is planted onto the ice; Take off: the last contact with the ice; Height: the top of the flight phase; Landing: the immediate contact with the ice. Obviously, the quad alone will not win a title; it's the total package, the artistry, the spins and the footwork. Obviously the focused should be on elements other than just the jumps.

A mistake in the quad costs dear while skaters can gain points on easier jumps. Doing a quad comes down to risk vs. reward in a judging system that puts emphasis on energy-sapping footwork and stiffly penalizes faulty jumps. The quadruple toe loop, is worth 9.8 points. The quad can come at a price. If you do it, you're a star. But if there is anything wrong with it -for instance, a fall, or it's under rotated, or too weak to do a combination after it, it's downgraded. There are very few skaters who can make a mistake on the quad and still land it. A negative grade of execution can cost up to three points. A triple Axel is worth 8.2 points. When it is done well, it can earn up to three bonus points. So why risk falling on a quad when you're more likely to land a clean triple Axel anyhow?

Rotational energy is the fuel that skaters work with, and they have to have energy to work with. The quad is an important jump. It's fun. It's interesting. It's beautiful when it's done right. While the quad is big news, I wonder if it will be some time before figure skaters are doing quintuple jumps. If you can do a quad well, by all means do it. But skating should never be about the jumps. It should be poetry on ice! No quad. While I agree that quad jumpers should be given more points, because of the tremendous risks involved, but I would rather be very pleased with the attention given to creativity and to the art we are so used to when it comes to skating.

The quad jump is a spectacular move. It is a neat and exciting. With the techniques and equipment currently used now, I think the athletes are pushing the envelope. I don't see a quint any time soon or a quad Axel. I do see the other more difficult quads --Lutz's and flips however-- being done soon as well as more consistent and higher quality jumps. To add a revolution may take a while (or maybe not) and potentially some new technique, training or equipment modifications to the sport. I imagine that with different technologies in boots, blades, along with different training techniques, strength-training, and perhaps costumes, it might be possible for skaters to land bigger jumps.

There are limits to what the human body can do and I wonder how close we are to them in the sport of figure skating. I long for the good ole 6.0 system. Weir has complained of the new system, saying such things as, “It gives you points for being able to chew on your shoes,“ Concerns for artistic expression has become secondary with the preoccupation of racking up points. Technical ability does not only pertain to jumps, but it includes spins, footwork, and a general flexibility. I just love to watch figure skating, and to witness the numerous feats of athleticism, skill, courage, endurance and passion.

My Zimbio
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Go for it Sasha: Cohen 2010

Figure skating is one of the most difficult and demanding sport in the world. However, skaters have been landing triple jumps since before World War II. Great figure skating, does not mean one must dig their toe pick into the ice and rotate or revolve as much as they possibly can. I mourn the passing of the glorious spiral. No more do we see the absolutely fluid spirals; courtesy of Michelle Kwan, complete with the most radiant smile that has us totally convinced that she was absolutely loving every minute spent on ice. I don't care how high you can leap or rotate; one fact remains, no youngsters have seized the moment since Kwan. Those who could fill the void of fluid, entertaining and artistic skating are gone. Sasha can restore pride in the United States team.

It is refreshing to find skaters like Sasha Cohen who can inject life experience into their choreography. I love to watch Sasha. Her presence on the ice is one of pristine and incredible beauty. The leg extension, the spiral, the elasticity, the fluidity she displays as she glides across the ice are just marvelous.

It is such a pleasure to watch Sasha skates, and I am very glad she wants to come back, and she has as much chance as any of the skaters to get the crown. Under the Code of Points scoring system, Cohen often scored more points in the free skate than other ladies scored during the entire competition. She skates with grace and elegance. Her presentation and connecting moves are just outstanding, including her gorgeous Charlotte. She just has to have two good clean skates. While Yu Na Kim may appear invincible, don’t get me wrong, I find her to be one of the best skaters yet; however, all of the expectations may rattle her, or anyone for that matter. As a result, she may have a not so stellar skate, and “we” may in turn be surprise yet again. Someone unknown, from out of no where may come and snatch the spotlight. It has happened in our own backyard. Remember Mirai Nagasu? when all of the attention were on Zhang and Meissner, and Nagasu took the crown. She became the “future of figure skating.” Then again Yu Na never disappoints. She is the best skater in the world right now, maybe the best ever. She has jumps, flexibility, artistry, flair, fluidity and most important: consistency. If she skates her best which we know she will, there is no doubt that the crown will be hers.

This season Asada has attempted two triple Axels, in her Long Program and let’s not disregard the judges’ imposition on those skaters. Skaters are being penalized for incomplete rotations, or wrong edges entry. Sasha, may just finally have that stellar competition that she’s been missing from her amateur career days. She has a very hard road ahead of her however. I've always felt that Miss Cohen is one of the greatest talents to ever glide on the ice; but she lacks consistency and the focus, a huge hindrance in any sport, even more in figure skating.

The problem with Sasha is her lack of consistency in her jumps; as a result, it may lower her base value to a point where winning can almost be impossible. Sasha has it all: grace, elegance, and she knows how to interpret her music. Her focus should be on securing her jumps. She'll have to work hard on clean entries and clean landing of her jumps. Her incredible flexibility, artistry and flair will take care of the rest. She will be unbeatable then.

I have always been a huge fan of Sasha's and am very excited to see her come back. She will bring a lot of excitement to skating nationally and internationally. If only there were three spots available, it would be a marvel to see Meissner, Cohen, and Flatt in action. There is a distinctive charm to their skating. Those three have what audiences enjoy.

Sasha had not been very consistent with her jumps during the height of her competitive career. Strong spirals and great flexibility are great assets; however, they are not enough. The International Figure Skating Union (ISU) Technical Panels regularly awards Level 4 designation to many ladies' spiral sequences at any given high level competition such as Worlds for instance. The value of Spin Sequence, even at Level 4 is only worth 2.9, the difference will come down to the Grade of Execution (GOE) which may be minimal. Flexibility may earn some extra points for Sasha, but mental toughness is what will lead to the gold medal. In the Ladies’ event, the difference between victory and crushed dreams is often how one handles the pressure of this Olympic main event. Sasha cannot let nerves get the best of her. Her spins and spirals might be high levels. However, the jumps have to be clean.

The women's long program at the Olympic Games may be the hardest moment to deal with. Sasha is a great skater, but she has not been a clean skater. She had either a clean short program and a bad long program or a bad short program and a good long program. Before she considers returning to competitive figure skating, Sasha would need concentrate on two clean programs. Sasha has good spins and great flexibility however she is limited (as far as landing the jumps)when compared against a Triple Axel or a consistent and very well executed Triple Flip-Triple Toe combos that her competitors will be doing. Her Charlotte is an absolutely gorgeous move. Our team would be solid with Cohen Meissner, and/or Flatt, or perhaps Wagner and/or Hacker on the scene.

Sasha is the most artistic skater in the world today. She brings a quality to skating that most skaters sought after. Cohen would bring considerable experience to the United States team. She has unparalleled spins, spirals and lovely positions. Cohen is a mesmerizing skater who charms crowds. She has shown that she can make up her athletic shortcomings with wowing artistry; Cohen knows very well what is expected of her — and what she expects of herself.
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