Olympic skaters: taking turns for the better.
Skating, that special blend of artistry in motion and energetic sport, is changing. Sellout crowds and record-breaking television audiences watching the Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in February and the world championships at Ottawa, Canada, in March will see how.
more than ever, skating is stretching the physical and emotional limits of the human body, taxing its resources to the edge of that body's resistance and sometimes pushing those resources just over the line. "Skating has changed in the past ten years--a lot since the 1980 Olympics," says world and Olympic skating coach Ron Ludington. "Technique has improved drastically, especially in female skaters, as technical abilities keep getting better."
Axel Paulsen of Norway performed the first one-and-a-half-revolution jump at the first "international skating meeting" in Vienna in 1882. Now skaters are doing triple and quadruple jumps and throws, and they are payings the price. Skaters suffer more injuries than do participants in any other noncontact sport except gymnastics.
"We've probably reached a kind of plateau right now," says Ludington. "Skaters become more susceptible to injury as the pumps improve. I see us leveing off for a while."
Competitive skating in general and American skating in particular have made great strides since the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. Not only the human body but its intellectual, psychological, educational and artistic resources have been stretched to their limits. Skaters are trying to see themselves as both competitors and performers.
"Emotional stress," coach Ludington says, "has become more of a problem in the top levels of competitive skating. The attention of the media has increased, the number of top competitors in the world has increased drastically and the moves are getting harder.... Our kids are adapting to the pressure as well as they can."
Ludington knows about pressure. Four-time U.S. pair champion, 1958 Silver Dance champion, bronze medalist in pairs at the 1960 Olympic Games, Lundington turned professional after a plane crash killed the entire U.S. team on the way to the world championships in 1961. Since then he has coached more than 500 teams, 30 of them U.S. champions in pair skating and ice dancing, and he has taken "the msot ever" to the Olympics this February.
Ludington uses all his intellectual and emotional resources to coach his 25 or more pair and dance teams; and he consistently achieves a delicate balance between driving competitiveness and friendly helpfulness. Skaters come from all over the United States and several foreign countries to live, go to school and work so they can train with "Luddy's Army" at the Skating Club of Wilmington, Delaware. Their skating day starts at 10:30 p.m., when they gather to work out on mats in a room high above the rink. They take to the ice for practice from 11 p.m. until daylight and work on power stroking, lifts, dance moves and their programs. These teams, "Luddy's Army," display their good training and their good manners by helping one another. They often turn up at competitions to cheer for their Wilmington teammates.
During top national and international competitions, the red-haired coach stands off the ice with his teams and gives them last-minute reminders and encouragement: "Watch that end pattern" to the dancers; "Don't forget the split in the split double twist" to the pair skaters. The advice comes naturally: If the move is a pair move--throw Axel, pair spin, one-handed lift, Mitchell lift, lateral twist, split double twist--Ludington invented it.
Those pair moves and the triple and quadruple jumps are largely responsible for the increase in injuries. "Dick Button started the trend toward triple jumps with his power," Ludington says. "Then Janet Lynn and Peggy Fleming brought the trend around to the use of more artistic moves." Elaine Zayak and the latest crop of male skaters, including world champion Scott Hamilton, turned the style back in the direction of athletic excellence with their technically perfect triple jumps.
The question for 1984, Which direction will figure skating take now? "I like what Osborn Colson, the former Canadian skater, had to say about the changes in skating," says one eastern U.S. skating judge. "He said, 'Every decade, skating is another sport.' I think we're trying to point ourselves once again in the direction of artistry--never forgetting, of course, that we've made great strides in athleticism and must incorporate those strides. Football is one sport, skating is quite another.
"Before 1980," she continues, "Don Jackson's triple lutz jump was an event. Now a skater doesn't even dare touch the senior level of competing without one."
Is the quadruple jump or the split triple-twist throw in pairs worth all the injuries? Was the body made to twist itself into a four-revolution jump and come down in one piece?
The leap from double to triple jump (from two in-air revolutions to three) may not even be worth the time and energy to perfect. "Probably only eight out of ten judges can tell the difference between a double and a triple, the revolutions go so quickly," the judge points out. "That means that perhaps only one out of 20 spectators spots it."
Nevertheless, many skaters who have perfected triple jumps or throws, including the Wilmington-based U.S. pair champions Peter and Kitty Carruthers, are now working on quadruples. If Kitty Carruthers lands her now consistent throw in Olympic or world competition this winter, she will have scored a first.
A successful quadruple throw might help a top skater counter the real threat from the Eastern-bloc countries that always send an arsenal of superb, professionally trained skaters to world competitions. East and West have entirely different aproaches toward training skaters. A Russian and an American may embark on a skating life at the same time, but the Russian, if he or she shows promise, will have all bills paid by the state. Strengths will be fortified, and weaknesses weeded out. The skater will receive the very best in coaching, education and medical attention.
Only recently has more attention been focused in the United States on the many needs of amateur skaters. Dr. Howard M. Silby and his U.S. Figure Skating Association Sports Medicine Committee are dealing with both the physical and emotional difficulties encountered by skaters in the top ranks of competition. At lower levels of competition, clinics and rap sessions have been organized to help solve sports-related problems that trouble young competitors and their parents. Special week- or month-long training camps are being offered in increasing numbers. Clinics for make-up and hair-styling advice and for weight control and correct diet planning have been established. For the first time this year, American companies--Campbell's Soups and General Foods--have taken on the official sponsorship of the U.S. figure-skating teams.
Undoubtedly skaters can use the help, even though American men and women singles skaters have been holding their own against both free and bloc countries' skaters for years. Names like Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Linda Fratianne, Rosalynn Sumners, Elaine Zayak and Scott Hamilton come to mind. The technique of American pair skaters is so improved that they are now almost in line with the nearly flawless but mechanical perfection of the Eastern-bloc teams. Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, whose "tricks" never took precedence over their finesse, actually defeated their Russian counterparts four years ago at Lake Placid, in the opinion of many--despite the silver medal they received.
Americans defeating Russians gets down to a basic truth that may sound trite, but never is: Free enterprise can win--and pride in being American is an important factor in winning international competitions.
In case you have not kept up with the latest in figure-skating terms, here are some definitions so you can follow the intricate loops and spins of international competition:
Figure Skating Terms
Jump--a single- or multi-revolution turn in the air after a forward- or backward-moving takeoff. Triple jumps are limtied to one of each kind only: Axel, single or double; single, double, triple or quadruple Salchow, toe loop, loop, flip, lutz.
Spin--fast clockwise or counter-clockwise revolution on one or both feet with the body in an upright or sitting position. Examples: blur, two-foot, broken neck, Biellman, layback, sit, flying sit, Axel sit.
Camel flying camel--a spin done on one foot with the nonskating leg and body held parallel to the ice.
Compulsory or school figures--variations on the figure eight performed on one foot at a time from a standstill position; figures are done first at a competition by singles competitors only.
Short program--a program of short duration done to music and consisting of several compulsory moves such as jumps and spins.
Long program--a longer program done to music and consisting of any jumps, spins, footwork or other moves chosen by the skater. Pair Skating:
Lift--a move in which the male partner lifts the female partner to varied positions, usually above his head. Examples: press, overhead, tabletop, star, cartwheel, bucket, knuckle.
Throw--a move in which the male partner throws his female partner into a single or multi-revolution jump. Examples: throw Axel or double Axel, double or triple Salchow or loop.
Death spiral--a move in which the male partner's outstretched arm holds his partner's outstretched arm and rotates her body--in a position close to and parallel with the ice--in a circular motion around him. Ice Dancing:
Performed by male and female partners to different types of music. Lifts are limited, separation of the partners is limited and jumps are not allowed.
Compulsory dances--specifically chosen dances are done to specified rhythms and number of beats per minute.
Original set pattern (OSP)--a dance done to specified music; the pattern is repeated several times.
Free dance--both moves and music chosen by the couple; limited lifts and separations, no jumps allowed.
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|Author:||Nolt, Lorna Simmons|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1984|
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