Have you noticed this week that even Olympic skaters fall? One of the things I write about in my book, First Day on the Ice: Tips from a Professional Coach (and Mom), is the fact that everyone falls…little kids, big kids, skating coaches, and yes, even Olympians.
As someone who has fallen on the ice too many times to count (thousands?), I can attest to the fact that you get used to it. Skaters fall in just about every way imaginable. Backwards, forwards, sideways, and (sometimes, unfortunately in my case) upside down.
It’s said that skaters “learn” how to fall, in other words, in ways that are less jolting, and it’s true. We conform to it…we slide with the falls. When we are at our peak, we are flexible, our reflexes kick in, and we get our hands out quickly to break some of the impact.
This is not to say that experienced skaters don’t ever get hurt by falls – and of course, you are quite welcome to wince and shout out “Oooooohhhhhh!” in your living room – but if you see an elite level skater fall on TV, the chances are good that they’re far more upset about the loss of points and ranking than any pain they might be feeling.
In my job as a skating coach, I see all kinds of falls all day long. Some of them look terrifying and some of them look downright…well, funny. At some point, I decided to try to catalogue all the different types of falls and I’d like to share them here with you.
The Splat: In this fall, usually best performed from forward skating, you hit the ice like pancake batter hits the griddle. In the more sophisticated version, there is an involuntary flip at the end.
The Sidesaddle: This fall is the one most highly recommended for adults and simply involves sliding off to one side or the other with grace and a bit of dignity. The affected hip and wrist will never be the same, but at least you’ll still have your teeth.
The Bellyflop: This is one of the more exciting falls, often associated with the entrance to a Camel Spin. If the skater has temporarily forgotten that she is at the rink and not the swimming pool, this will surely remind her. This fall is rendered even more breathtaking because it literally takes your breath.
The Geyser: This fall is unique in the way it first shoots you up in the air, causing you to momentarily defy gravity before you plummet back down. In order to get your money’s worth, stick around for the exciting grand finale, which is usually a full-bodied whiplash.
The Jackhammer: In this vertical fall, the tailbone makes first contact with the ice with a velocity and force that shakes the entire building. In response, the spinal chord will continue to vibrate for days.
The Pretzel: Many physicists have tried, but it is impossible to explain how skaters accomplish this complicated fall and likewise detangle from it. This human knot is twice as common and complex for pair and dance teams.
The Slide: This is the fall that reminds you just how slippery the ice is. If there are other skaters on the ice, the challenge is to steer yourself away from them. In other words, you want to avoid impersonating a bowling ball heading straight for the pins.
The Surprise: This fall is not your fault. There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it and no way to see it coming. The ice quietly sneaks up on you, swiftly grabs you from below, and pulls you down. All of this transpires in a nanosecond, so any witnesses who observe it will be just as surprised as the skater.
The Slo-Mo: This is the exact opposite of the previous fall. This one seems to take forever and you’ll see it coming from miles away. You’ll try to flap your arms in an attempt to fly out of the situation, but this will only put you more off balance. In the meantime, your life will flash before your eyes. You’ll have time to wish you’d done all those good things like taken better care of your childhood goldfish… tape-recorded your grandmother’s voice… spent more time laughing and less time working.
Mostly, you’ll wish that you’d invested in a set of… butt pads.