Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Quick Lesson on Spirals

Okay - kids - the Winter Olympics are coming up 

and I know a lot of you folks are big figure skating fans every four years.  I thought I'd help you occasional skating fans by explaining some things so that you might understand the results a little more.

Today we will discuss spirals.   

Most people think of spirals as the arabesque position - although in skating your back is flat - one leg the ice (knee slightly bent) and free leg extended straight behind you.  

In order to pass a test with a spiral or have it count in a competition your free leg must be at least hip level but of course nowadays most girls and ladies hold their leg much higher.

However what makes a spiral a spiral is NOT the body position but the edge and pattern on the ice.  

When done on a correct edge, the tracings on the ice will make a "spiral".   It is important to skate on the EDGE of your skate, not the flat.  So when you watch the skaters do not be distracted by gumby-like flexibility - first look at their FEET.  Are they on an edge?  Are they skating on a curve rather than a straight line?  Skating is not gymnastics on ice!

Nicole Bobek in the 90s was the first to hold her free leg so high as to nearly be doing the splits.  However, her spiral was spectacular not just for the position, but her edge and the speed and  length she held the spiral - clear around the rink.

 All skating is either done on an outside edge- where you lean to the outside of  your skates or on an inside edge where you lean to the inside of your skate.  

It is VERY important in skating to learn this inside/outside edge concept right away because it is one of the basics of skating.

In this picture of Nicole she is on the outside edge - look how much she is leaning That is the kind of lean you want to see in a spiral

In this picture of Michelle Kwan,  she is doing an inside-edge spiral.  Again, see how much she is leaning.

To compete with Nicole, Michelle Kwan worked on her flexibility and soon she was holding her leg just as high and upped the anti with her "change-edge" spiral.   She would start on an inside edge and then switch to an outside edge.  Now all skaters are expected to have the flexibilty to hold their leg that high and to do change edge spirals.

This is Emily Hughs' spiral.  She has a very bad position, she is leaning way too far down and forward.  This is a common mistake of beginners, because you will try to lean forward to get your leg up higher instead of working your butt and back muscles.  

This move is VERY hard on the back.  I'm really surprised no one has corrected on this.

Here is a picture of Sasha Cohen showing a very good back position although when she started she would lean very far forward.  

She also does not always have the best edges but she has such good body position nobody notices, which annoys the heck out of me.

But because a spiral is about the edge, not the position you will see other positions in a spiral sequence --like this "Y spiral"  by 2006 Olympic Champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan.  

Again while you maybe amazed by her flexibility - look at the lean and edge - that is what make that a good spiral sequence.  Very often you will see all sorts of contortionists 
on flats or wobbly edges.  That is NOT skating.

And speaking of contortionists - you will see this position - called a Biellmann after Denise Biellmann who would spin in this position.  

She did not invent the position, show skaters had been doing it for years but she was the one that introduced it to competition in the 80s.  So now every little girl has to learn to grab her skate while doing a spiral.  
It's not pretty at the lower levels let me tell you!

My lovely daughter competing at Intermediate at the Upper Great Lakes Regional Competition in 2007.  She has a lovely spiral.  

You will also see this position - called a "fan spiral" done skating backwards where the leg is lifed and held in front.  This is an excellent position by Sasha Cohen.  

Done well, it's spectacular, done by most skaters looks like, well I'll just say it-- a dog taking a pee.

And this what a 52 year old woman who doesn't do much off ice stretching looks like doing a spiral.  You laugh but I worked really hard to get it that good and I'm pretty darn proud of it!


  1. And at that, I think you get it just slightly higher than I do - that four-year age gap makes a difference!

  2. Actually what was hardest for me was not getting my leg up so much as getting my back flat. I would try to do a spiral standing up sraight and that's REALLY hard