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.


tg said...

I am so happy you returned to the blog! I love reading your posts!

Anonymous said...

i completely disagree. Removing figures allows skating to become more gymnastic and powerful. also it allows more time for skaters and coaches to work on artistry. Removing figures also drew more fans to the sport. now you can see if a skater is doing well but before only the judges and skater could tell if the figure was being performed correctly. it has also been good for the business side of skating the ice for one patch alone cost the rink over 500 dollars. add into that flooding for figures test sessions, the different skates needed it just was not conducive to the growth of the sport. Although figures has eliminated some details in the big picture removing figures made the sport better in far to many ways to count. it has allowed more spin and jump breakthroughs. my final point being that figures squashed the talent of many excellent skaters who maybe were not as precise but had power and artistry. so triple axel what do you want Bigger jumps, fasters spins, better artistry, more fans, and better business, or squashed talent, smaller jumps, less fans and a little more control on the ice.

Xan said...

Both anonymous and TTA are right-- removing figures made the way for a more powerful type of skating, and I don't think you can say one is better than the other. On cost and time alone, it's a huge boon to parents at any rate. But a lot has been lost, as well, most notably the control of edges and flow. The rocky, wobbly spiral sequences in the Grand Prix are a case in point. I still teach my skating students the First Test figures; no question but that there is no better way to help a student understand edge and control.

Anonymous said...

It was certainly interesting for me to read the blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such themes. I love to read blogs like that. Just add more pics :)

Anonymous said...

i feel the governing body did a disservice to every skater out there by doing away with figures. without figures, we wouldn't have this sport. skating was never meant to be solely a jumping contest. i think the essence of skating has been lost, and for those just entering the sport, i feel they are missing out on the purity and precision the sport offers. i was fortunate that my amatuer career was during the time that figures were still a part of the sport. i loved the hours i spent practicing and perfecting my tracings. the calm and quiet on the rink was meditative and takes such a high level of concentration and patience and attention to detail that those who have never done figures will never understand. i am hoping they bring figures back someday....i doubt it, but my fingers are crossed. thank you for this article...takes me back to a wonderful time in my life.

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