Glossary of Skating Falls

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.

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Bravo on Passing New Senior Moves!

Congratulations to Alyssa Cambria (L) and Vida Weisblum (below) on passing their Senior Moves in the Field tests! They are my first students to pass the new, updated versions of this test and they skated wonderfully. Coaching the new material has been fun – I think the changes are excellent and very relevant to today’s step sequences for singles, dance, and synchro. It seems that most skaters are adapting well to the revisions implemented in September. In general, I’d say that they are finding the loops and the twizzles to be the most challenging. But all that work and repetition is paying off – Bravo!

Maribel Vinson-Owen

Since watching RISE, I have been thinking a lot about Maribel Vinson-Owen and the impact she has had on our sport. RISE hits home an obvious point about coaching lineage that we don’t often think about: our coach had a coach and that coach had a coach, going back to before there was even film footage to document it.

One of my coaches, Ron Ludington, was Vinson-Owen’s student for his whole amateur career. I was also trained by two of his former skaters: Stacey Smith and Robbie Kaine. All of these coaches have influenced me in different yet profound ways, both directly (in lesson) and indirectly (through example). They have helped to shape who I have become.

Though skaters learn a great deal from emulating other better skaters, and coaches are starting to use video as a helpful teaching tool, skating has been and continues to be largely an oral tradition, passed on from one individual to another. And though the sport is always evolving and coaches bring new ideas to the arena, coaches are mostly imparting the knowledge, the technique and the psychology that they learned from their own coaches.

I can’t help but wonder what techniques and perspectives have trickled down from this iconic woman through my coaches.  And, of course, the fact that Maribel Vinson-Owen combined coaching and writing has captured my interest. How else to pay tribute but write an article about her? This week, I am thrilled to have story about her on the yahoo sports site called The Post Game:

To read it, click here.

In researching this article, I called Ron Ludington and he was kind enough to expand on some things he shared in RISE.

He told me that when she threw that chair at him they were both “on edge” because he was late for his lesson. Mind you, that lesson was at 2:30 AM! We are all familiar with the challenge of finding clear ice (and when I first trained with Luddy at the Skating Club of Wilmington, I did skate Pair sessions at midnight) so this tidbit did make me chuckle.

He said, “Maribel and I fought like cats and dogs, but I have nothing but admiration for her. She was an amazing motivator. She taught skaters of all levels and abilities and guided us in the right direction.”

Learning more about Maribel Vinson-Owen and all the coaches and skaters featured in RISE has truly inspired me. I can only hope that, in my own way, I have a positive effect on my skaters and that I am helping to carry on the best parts of the skating tradition.

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Thank you for reading.

Movie Review of RISE

courtesy of US Figure Skating

Like many people in the skating world, I watched RISE, with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. For those of you who don’t know, this is the figure skating movie about the 1961 World Team who perished in a plane crash, on the way to the World Championships in Prague.

Beforehand, I wondered if I should cut my skating lessons short that night in order to rush over and see the movie. I am glad that I did.  Likewise, beforehand, I wasn’t sure whether or not to aggressively recommend the film to my skating students, because I wasn’t sure how painful it was going to be to watch. Though it is a horrible tragedy and it is difficult subject matter, it is treated tastefully and has a positive message. The focus is not on the crash itself but on the skaters and coaches who were on the plane. This event had an impact on so many lives and on the American skating community for years to come.

I think my skating students should see this film, as should their parents, as should anyone involved in skating and other sports, too. It is playing again in theaters around the country on March 7. I recommend that you get your tickets now. You can find theaters and buy tickets here.

Not only is it important to learn the history of this specific event, RISE provides us with an all-too rare opportunity to view skating footage from a bygone era. (Like people tracing out figure eights!) It also gives us a chance to understand that skaters of yesteryear, despite their plain costumes and their different skating style, struggled with many of the same challenges as skaters do today. Even back then, some top skaters moved across the country to seek expert coaching, some families were split apart, and some parents pushed too hard. These athletes experienced injuries and disappointing performances, and also victories. Finally, viewers can take a bit of time to consider the skating community as a whole rather than just our own little corner of it. Skating requires so much focus on details that we can easily forget that we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.

The title, RISE, (the ‘i’ of which cleverly depicts a skater mid-jump), is accompanied by a subtitle: Can the end of one dream give rise to another? The documentary’s answer to this question is: YES. A panel of skating greats like Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Michelle Kwan, Brian Boitano, et cetera, help us to see how we can be inspired by these athletes from the 1961 World Team.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is how it effectively conveys the concept of legacy and the connectedness of everyone in the skating world. In some way, most of us are either directly or indirectly connected to this event through our coaches or skaters that we know. For example, I was coached by Ron Ludington, who was trained by Maribel Vinson Owen, who is featured in the film.

And many of us have benefited from the Memorial Fund, a very direct form of connectedness. I knew that F. Ritter Shumway set up the Memorial Fund after the crash, but didn’t realize that he did so only eight short days afterwards. Thousands of skaters have been helped by this financial assistance, a very direct form of connectedness.

I was interested to learn that the 1961 National Championships were the first to be televised. And there is an old cigarette advertisement that had the whole theater laughing. There are some photos of the crash wreckage that are not overly gruesome but heart wrenching.  There are some compelling stories about skaters who might have been on the plane but were not either due to injury or sickness.

I enjoyed the segments about the SC of Boston and about the Broadmoor rink in Colorado Springs. Before the Broadmoor was razed, my brother and I trained at that beautiful (though crumbling) rink for one summer. We also competed at our first Midwestern Sectionals there and discovered just how beautiful and majestic that hotel is.  (We also learned how higher altitude really does affect your stamina.)

Evidently, there was a RISE pre-show hosted by Matt Lauer and Peter Carruthers that our theater didn’t play. But we did see the after-show. This was sort of an Oprah-esque set-up where participants in the film (including the filmmakers) immediately discussed the movie and the topics at hand. It was kind of like seeing the DVD “extras” while still sitting in the theater.

During this portion, both Frank Carroll and Evan Lysacek were interviewed. Evan said something to the effect that, after a performance, it is great to be out on the ice by yourself while the audience applauds, but the real celebration takes place when you step off the ice and hug your coach. The way Evan has so kindly shared his Vancouver victory with Frank Carroll is truly endearing.

I gasped, along with many others in attendance, at Dorothy Hamill’s disparaging comment about the rink named after her, in Greenwich, Connecticut. There were likely many people in our theater who coach or skate there.

As always, I enjoyed seeing Scott Hamilton and think he had some of the most poignant things to say. He said that one of the main lessons he learned from skating is that, “You reap what you sow.” In other words, if you don’t practice hard, and go to the rink even on the days that you don’t want to, you can’t expect to succeed. He also reminded us that when, in any aspect of your life, you fall down, you just have to get back up. (In other words, “rise.”) Maybe these are obvious adages, but it can’t hurt to hear them again, especially from him, and especially in light of the health issues he is going through right now.

My one criticism of RISE is probably not a fair one: I wanted more! While it was fascinating to learn about these individual stories, I didn’t feel like there was enough detail about enough people. I suppose there is only so much ground that can be covered in 94 minutes. And truth be told, this sense of wanting more prompted me, when I got home that night, to pore through the pages of SKATING magazine’s February issue, a large portion of which is dedicated to the crash and the film.  I am now also intrigued by Patricia Shelley Bushman’s book, Indelible Tracings: The Story of the 1961 U.S. World Figure Skating Team. So my interest has been further piqued and I presume it has created similar curiosity in many others.

Like I said above, go see RISE on March 7. Many of us have seen that iconic photo of the team lined up on the steps of that fateful airplane. After seeing this film, their faces will look a lot more familiar.

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What did you think of the film? Feel free to leave a comment below.

An Ode to my Long Black Coat

Long Black Coat, how do I love thee?

You’re puffy with feathers,
And run from my neck past my knees.
You keep me warm while coaching,
When the rink is below 25 degrees.

You’re big and you’re shapeless,
Like a sleeping bag.
Your only bit of decoration,
Is that North Face tag.

I know you make me look
Twenty pounds heavier than I am.
As I skate down the ice,
I look as wide as the Zam.

You’re so bulky and cumbersome,
I can’t demonstrate a thing.
But the frostbite alternative,
Would certainly sting.

We’ve been together,
For at least seven years.
You’re starting to show your age,
And this brings me to tears.

How will I ever replace you,
What will I do?
I get more concerned,
With every feather you lose.

I’ve worn other jackets,
They just don’t compare.
I need to find your twin,
The question is, where?

I’ve searched the web,
And you seem discontinued.
If I don’t find something soon,
I’ll just have to coach in the —–!

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Apologies for the disturbing imagery at the conclusion of this otherwise beautiful poem.

Turns out North Face still makes something similar. The stitching is slightly different and it isn’t as ridiculously long. I ordered it online, here, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to “take it for a spin.”

BTW, lots of great new “skater quotes” in the column over to the right. Thanks to everyone who has been giving me these 🙂

Skating with the Stars: Be Afraid

It’s official: ABC’s Skating with the Stars will premier Monday, November 22. You may remember that Fox tried something like this – called Skating with Celebrities – back in 2006, and, though it had its interesting moments, it was considered a flop. This time around, the Dancing with the Stars producers are taking a stab at it. Already, the show is being criticized because the stars they lined up aren’t all that famous. I think the three most intriguing are probably Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Olympic “freestyle” skier Jonny Moseley, and actress Sean Young. I’m not very familiar with the other three – Bethanny Frankel, Brandon Mychal Smith, and Rebecca Budig – but I applaud them for taking the lunge…I mean plunge.

So I am excited to see this. But mostly I’m afraid….very afraid. And here are 10 reasons why I think you should be too:

1.Inspired by what they see, viewers across the land are going to flood their floors with garden hoses and turn off their heat, until they reach a deep freeze. This way, they can attempt those exotic skating tricks at home.

2.Vince Neil can apparently do a Waltz Jump. He claims to have been figure skater back when he was age 12. Actually, this is endearing. What is scary is that American skating coaches are going to be inundated with calls from other aging rock stars, ushering in a whole new breed of adult skaters. Better start offering tequila at the snack bar.

3. The skating will be so HOT that the ice will melt. Caught up in the glory, skaters and pros alike won’t reach for their guards quickly enough, and the one and only sound that is worse than fingernails scratching across a chalkboard will be broadcast around the world: blades against cement.

4.When viewers see how gracefully all these stars can skate, they are going to think that skating is easy, that it’s a snap. (Of course I’m kidding. It is sure to be an awkward-fest with lots of bent free legs, lurching, and terrifying falls. This will in fact emphasize exactly how difficult this sport is.)

5. Seriously, I predict three severed limbs, and no less than two body casts. On Skating with Celebrities, Bruce Jenner tripped while trying a spin and had to get 16 stitches on his face. Keep in mind that he is a decorated, Olympic decathlete, therefore presumably somewhat coordinated. A few other stars from that show required emergency medical attention. Just be ready to wince for this one. I suggest covering your eyes and peeking through your fingers. In light of the dangers, it’s understandable that they couldn’t lure bigger names: what Hollywood hotshot would risk disfigurement (not to mention the embarrassment factor)? On the flip side, it’s amazing that top U.S. pair skaters Brooke Castile and Keauna McLaughlin agreed to be pros for this, considering that they are still competition material. For them, I recommend what I always wanted to wear as a pair skater: full body padding, maybe some hockey equipment with sparkles.

6. During Skating with Celebrities, actor/hockey player Dave Coulier was so frustrated by those pesky figure skating toe picks that he filed them off. What if Olympic skier Jonny Moseley seeks similar comfort by attaching skis to the bottom of his skating boots?

7. If indeed, as is rumored, Johnny Weir and Dick Button are both judges, there will undoubtedly be a catfight. Fur will fly.

8. The producers of Dancing with the Stars have taken schmaltz to new heights on that show. So brace yourself for cheesy music, hideous costumes and general tackiness on ice. Of course, most skating programming already contains these qualities in spades. Isn’t that why we keep coming back?

9. Love affairs will ignite; marriages will be torn asunder. Lloyd Eisler and Kristy Swanson (who infamously hooked up on Skating with Celebrities) will make guest appearances as relationship counselors.

10. If the ratings are really shoddy, critics (who are just jealous because they are neither skaters nor stars) will use it as proof that skating popularity is declining. Others will go so far to say that it’s the nail in the skating coffin. As a result, rinks will be boarded up and rental skates will be sent over to the troops in Iraq as combat weapons.

Truthfully, I’m just afraid of all the household and organizational tasks I’m going to neglect on Monday nights for the six weeks that it airs. I’ll surely be watching. Will you?

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Please share your deepest fears on this subject by leaving a comment below.

Notice that there are lots of new Skater Quotes in the column to the right.

The “Wounded Star” artwork above is by the talented Mr. Rob Strati. To see more of his work, click here.

Spectacular Spectating – Vancouver 2010


What an incredible two weeks of Olympics viewing. From my futon, I gasped, I cried, and I applauded. This is the most fun I’ve had watching the Olympics in a long time. What now? I suppose we can all resume our former routines and at least be happy to catch some more zzzs. Sure, those four-minute, backloaded, bonus-heavy programs take a lot of stamina, but surely not as much as this late-night spectating.

As excited as I was to watch Ladies Freeskating, I really started to fade while waiting for that last group…I know many of you were feeling the same. A skating friend came over to be my viewing buddy since the Hubs was out of town. We were both frustrated with the fact that we were yawning, so to try and revive ourselves, we dropped to the floor and each did ten push ups. This indeed woke us up. Then we did another 10 (okay, on my part, only four) after marveling at Joannie Rochette’s strong and beautifully-sculpted arms.

I keep saying that the next time these things roll around I’m going to take two weeks off work, so I can properly focus and rest-up for optimal viewing. But the truth is that it was fun to be at the rink, compare notes with fellow coaches, and see what the kids thought of everything.  There has been a buzz in the air and a little extra enthusiasm.

As much as I’ve been impressed with the actual skating over these two weeks – the fluidity, the velocity, the beauty and innovation combined with aggression – I think I’m most in awe of the composure we have seen. Not only did these skaters expect a lot from themselves, they carried the expectations of many others: entire countries were watching and hoping. To perform, to focus, and to excel in those circumstances is exactly remarkable as all the sappy, Costas-narrated montages claim. I think these athletes have brought us all a some perspective and probably a lot of inspiration.

And so, as I am already feeling a bit of a void and anticipate some post-Olympics withdrawal coming on, I hope to draw strength from what I have witnessed. I hope my skating students will do the same. I hope we all will.

Now where is that book I was reading way back before Vancouver took over my brain?

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Thank you, as always for reading. If you’d like add your own innermost feelings on the Olympics or make fun of me for waxing so sentimental, please leave a comment below.