Monday, July 20, 2009

The Impact of Figures in Skating

Prior to the nineties, figure-skating competitions included a segment known as compulsory figures, in which the skater traced a set pattern on the ice, or the figure eight. Competitors had to skate the figures using a prescribed part of the blade, which included change of edge, steps and turns that were performed at specific points on the skating surface. Compulsory figures trained skaters to be faster, more quick-feet, and allowed them the ability to flow on the ice as well.

School of figures was the very foundation of skating. Figure Skating was named for the art form which involved creating intricate patterns on the ice with the edges of the blades. As a result, compulsory figures became a must for training and competitions. Compulsory figures were based on the figure eight and its variations. Skaters traced identical patterns on the ice three times and were judged on their ability to replicate the exact figures in the same place. They made circles on the ice with one foot, then retrace those circles with the other foot. The circles are the actual figures from which the term figure skating is stemmed.

The completed tracings left by the skater's blades were evaluated by judges. Judges would study and grade the patterns. Points were deducted if the skater skated outside of the line; or if there were additional tracings or wobbling. These intricate patterns into the ice, were designed to assure the judges that the skaters had mastered the fundamentals of their sport.

Skaters spend hours skating patches- Patch practice sessions were usually one-hour in length. Most skaters usually practiced at least two hours of patch time per day. These patches of ice were completely clean pieces of ice with not a mark or skid on them. The skater’s objective was to trace perfect circles on these clean pieces of ice

Figures allow them to learn edge control, good posture, and balance. Ideally, edges were supposed to be clean without scratches, undesired changes of an edge, or without evidence of no edge tracing. Now figures are no longer part of elite competition. With these changes, the emphasis in the free skate shifted to an increase in athleticism or a jumping contest.

Up until 1990, compulsory figures were part of the singles figure skating competition. Skaters had to execute figures which were then measured by judges. According to the review of literature, the judges sometimes used the school figures as a means of marking up or marking down skaters. The figures were also used by some judges as a basis for down grading newer skaters. Typically, a skater in his/her first appearance at an international competition would not expect high marks in the school figures, even if he or she might have felt that they had skated solid figures.

Even after the school figures were reduced from sixty percent to thirty percent of the overall score, with the new short program weighing twenty percent and the long program fifty percent by the 1980s, skaters who built a vast lead in figures had a strong chance of winning the competition. Figures still had a great impact on the final outcome.

The omission of compulsory has also taken a toll on the sport; compulsory figures are needed to teach skaters basic skills. Abolishing the compulsories has resulted skating into jumping contests and in turn may cause more injuries. Skating is about control, centering and balance. Those are the things school of figures brought. Now that we don't have school of figures, skaters are turning to ice dance instructors to teach them what they need to maintain speed and flow on the ice.

Compulsory is different from free skating. It is very difficult and has kept many skaters from the top of the podium. Many competitors feel that compulsories have no place in modern skating; they think it to be tedious, and boring to watch. Denise Bielman, like many skaters, did not like to practice figures. She preferred the free skate which gave her the freedom to bounce spin and dance to the music.

Now that figures are a thing of the past, skaters are flocking to dance instructors to teach them what they need to do to maintain speed, and flow on the ice. The omission of figures has impacted the art in the sport as well. Figures gave skaters the foundation they needed to balance, control, and command the ice. A skater cannot be an artist if those skills are lacked. This quality of skating is paramount to the art of skating. In the end, the sport will remain a jumping contest among prepubescent teens. The compulsories give students the quality of edges, technique, and control they need.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sasha Cohen: The Pressure to Win.

Sasha is an avid skater, a talented artist; she has modeled in major magazines, walked the red carpet, and has skated in many countries. As the two-time and reigning World Silver Medalist, the 2006 U.S. National Champion, Grand Prix Final Champion, and 2-Time Olympic Team Member (2002 and 2006), Sasha is a sure podium contender for the 2010 Olympic Games. Sasha has experience.

Alexandra Pauline Cohen was named after her mother's favorite ballerina. She was born on October 26, 1984. Sasha's mother is of Ukrainian background and she is a former ballerina. Because of her Russian heritage, Sasha can converse in Russian. She has translated competitor Viktoria Volchkova's interview responses from Russian to English at the 2001 Trophée Lalique competition (Cup Of Paris).

Sasha began skating around the age of seven. Prior to starting figure skating, she used to be a gymnast and had progressed to level five. Apparently, her mom was relieved when she made the switch to figure skating. She enjoys reading. One or her favorite places to be, is the public library. After years of hard work and training, Sasha is renowned. She has become one of the skaters in the world today. She won her first silver medal at the 2000 U.S. Nationals. Sasha missed the 2001 Nationals because of a serious back injury which required her to take time off from training. At the 2002 U.S. Nationals, she earned her second silver medal and a spot on the 2002 Olympic Team.

Her gymnastic background has made her resilient when it comes to sustaining those spills on the ice. She has a great deal of experience. I am going on a limb to say that Sasha Cohen knows the why, the where and the how when it comes to her skating. She knows her body. Things may not always be "perfect," however Sasha should know how to compete by now.

She is a different person from the inexperienced youngster who was introduced to us in 2000. She can handle skating. She may just need to reinvent herself. We should never think of inconsistency, or spills, by the mere mention of Sasha's name. She has nothing to learn as this point. Sasha needs to be more confident when it comes to the technical aspects of her skating. She has always verbalized (like most skaters) that she is having fun on the ice; when in reality, she does (they do) not believe in those words. Those are rehearsed thoughts for the media and viewers' sake. Deep down, most skaters don't believe they are having "fun" Those skaters are preoccupied with the ultimate goal.

Vying for top spot is well and good; however, it should not be the main focus. Like Sara Hughes, Sasha (or any other skaters) should be getting on that ice with the objective that she has nothing to lose. She really should believe that she is actually there to have fun. Skating well is the ultimate prize. The medal will be the bonus. She should approach both programs ( short and free) as if a flawless skate is her driving force; the prize she wants to obtain.

She has an exciting season ahead of her.

At this point, Sasha ( Flatt included) should be beyond feeling the pressure to win. Let the other skaters from other countries succumb to pressure or be pressured. Let them be the ones with that "something to lose" preoccupying their mind and their programs. Our skaters (we) live in a free society, it won't be the end of the world if they don't bring home the gold.

Sasha will be prepared. She just has to skate the way she does at practice. Her quest should be to skate well. According to Sasha, skating is her own commitment, her hard work and that no one is pushing her to do it. And, that is how she should approach the upcoming season. She is skating on her own terms.

As far as I am concerned, Sasha would benefit if she were to practice in a vacuum; without the interference, the scolding and the criticisms of the media. She does not need to be reminded of her flaws or her inconsistencies. She does not need to be asked if gold will be her color, or whom she she feels she has to beat; nor does she need to be compared to other skaters ( "I must think I am living in Utopia"). This type of attention can be nerve-racking. All of the skaters are good in their own way. They are a gifted bunch. Sasha needn't be perfect; nor does she need to skate perfectly. Sasha needs to be Sasha. She needs to skate and be there for Sasha.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that she is (Flatt, Meissner, Zhang, Nagasu,Hughes as well as the other skaters are ) injury free. Sasha can be unstoppable. She must first have to free her herself of the burden of having to be perfect. Her artistry, flawless connections, fluid extensions and techniques will be the determining factor. She has nothing to lose.

Her artistry, the way she interprets the music, the way she relates to the audience, her spiral and straight-line step sequence will set her apart; in turn, she will earn high marks with the judges. She is ready. She has the ability to skate two solid performances. She does not have to be perfect.
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