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Did anyone enjoy watching the Olympic coverage last night? We sure did! Almost everyone I know likes to watch the figure skaters every 4 years - and our family is no exception. But there's something so amazing about watching what they are doing and understanding it because my kids do the same stuff (on a much smaller level, of course).

We like all the events - snow boarding, skiing, the luge (heartbreaking as it is this Olympics). But we don't really understand those sports inside and out like we do figure skating.

For example, figure skating used to be a lot more fun to watch (and to perform!) before the "rules" had to be changed thanks to conspirator's cheating on the Olympic level (2002 Olympics). Now the "rules" limit the artistic creativity that goes into the short and long programs. Elements are the rule of the day, with the express purpose of ensuring no one else can have their Olympic gold stolen from them by conspiring judges (Russia & France). Some of the fun seems to have gone out of the sport, sadly.

But last night, the fun was there again! What a blast we had watching Zhao Hongbo and She Xue skate, and what an inspiring story they have! And the Germans costumes were adorable! Plus, Robin Szolkowy landed her triple flip - something she hadn't been landing all week during practice. She didn't dip too much, just landed it solidly. So great to see!

So, here is my quick info guide to figure skating (I won't touch on ice dance - although I could since my kid's are coached by an ice dancer, so they get a lot of dance thrown into their figure lessons!) There are 2 basic types of jumps - toe jumps and edge jumps. The "toe" refers to the toe pick on the figure skate - the more advanced the skater, the larger the toe pick. The "edge" is talking about the edge of the skate - and the edge is made better or worse depending on how it is sharpened. There is also a "rocker" on the blade of figure skates, and when they spin they are sitting on their rocker. Hockey skates have no toe pick, but my son prefers his hockey skates when he monitors (he works at the ice rink). When he's just skating in circles for a couple of hours, making sure no one gets hurt on the public ice time, his toe pick gets in the way, so hockey skates work better.

Okay, back to jumps. Toe jumps - you have a toe loop, a flip, and the Lutz. The easiest way to tell these jumps apart is before take-off. The toe loop takes off from the back outside edge of the right foot and are launched by the left toe pick (so watch for the left leg to be raised and then "dug in" at the start of the jump). A flip begins on the back inside edge of the left foot and is launched by the right toe pick (my daughter's favorite jump when she was jumping singles). Then you have the Lutz, where the skater takes off from the back outside edge of the left foot and is launched by the right toe pick. Got all that? Good, 'cause there is a LOT more to talk about :)

Let's move on to the edge jumps - yup, I know the previous jumps all begin on an inside or outside edge, but remember, those are toe jumps because they require the toe pick to be dug in to launch the jump. The Salchow (pronounced sow-cow) take off from a back left inside edge. The other leg helps launch the jump into the air. (The double Salchow is now my daughter's favorite jump - she lands it solidly and consistently!) The loop takes off from a right back outside edge and lands on the same edge. And then there is the axel, the easiest jump to identify as a spectator because it's the only jump that takes off from a forward edge. Because of this, an extra half rotation is a part of this jump. So, if someone lands a triple axel, they have actually rotated 3 1/2 times before landing. A single axel is 1 1/2 rotations. You get the idea :)

The rotations in the air determines the type of jump - single, double, triple and the rare but amazing quad. Jumps are often performed in succession during Olympic type competition - when you hear the commentator saying "Triple toe, triple loop" etc. This gets tricky, since it's not an official double combo if there is any extra footwork between jumps - they have to start the second jump on the edge they landed on from the previous jump, so the loop is the only jump that comes later on in the combination. Again, I'm sure you've got all this down pat so we can keep moving along, right?

Let's talk spins. There aren't as many spins as there are jumps, so it's much easier to follow. You have the sit spin - and trust me, it's pretty tough to get your bottom on your boot and then raise yourself back up - on one foot, without falling! But that's the requirement to pass your sit spin at a higher level. There is also a camel spin - leg out behind the skater. And the basic upright spin, standing straight up. There are variations of these spins, but these 3 are really all you'll see during the Olympic games.

I can't say much about lifts, since my kids don't really do any of that - so phew! You are off the hook and don't have to listen to me blab about lifts...

But I will talk a little about footwork, an important element to any skating routine and key for all skaters. These may seem easy, but they really build up the skater's endurance and strength. There is the mohawk, twizzle, rocker, bracket, three-turns and choctaws. These are the turns and the footwork that make up the bulk of the performance - and when you're watching pairs, remember they have spent countless hours getting themselves in sync. They can't always watch one another, and they are not the same size - which makes is even more difficult to spin or step or jump in sync. It's hard to explain, but I bet someone with a great math brain could explain it much better! Trust me when I say they don't move together perfectly without a whole lot of behind the scenes work.

There are also spirals and spread eagles, which look so pretty...

Then there is the equipment - the skates, the blades, skate bags, hard guards, soft guards, in the boot tights, over the boot tights, the correct pants (my daughter just got a new pair for a mere $70 - she babysat a LONG time to earn that $70!) Zuca's and Zuca bags (if you choose to own more than one!) And, of course, gloves...very important and always getting lost! Good quality wash clothes for drying the blades when you come off the ice, unless you are going right back on the ice then you can safely put your hard guards on - but be careful, you don't want those blades to rust! Of course, there are also right now, my kids need new blades so that they can land their doubles more solidly. And new boots, since they really do get "chunked up" as the wear and tear takes it's toll.

Oh, and don't forget the off ice time. This might be conditioning time, ballet or dance classes, or practicing with your partner or group off ice. When you see the skaters practicing their jumps off ice during the Olympics, you'll notice that they bend their knee and "hop hop hop" when they land...of course they can't "hop hop hop" when they land on ice, but off ice it's very hard on the knees to land without cushioning the knee and hopping through the landing to expel the energy out of the knee. Yes, it's also hard on the knees to land on the ice - lots of skaters have worn out hips and knees in their 20's. But they do try and spare their knees the jolts and jars of repeated off ice landings.

So, as you watch the Olympics, you can feel like you've mastered figure skating and understand what's going on, even if the jumps all look the same to you. Don't tell, but sometimes they look the same to me, too, even after all these years :)

Happy Olympic viewing!

Day 19 done :)

Jan L. Burt


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