A young woman leaps and turns on the ice. The crowd gasps as she goes into a spin. They roar as she executes a difficult triple axel followed by a double loop.
This champion figure skater is competing before a huge audience. But millions of people skate just for fun, on frozen ponds or indoor skating rinks. Ice skating is the act of moving on ice by using ice skates. It can be done for a variety of reasons, including exercise, leisure, traveling and various sports. Figure skating is a sport in which individuals, duos, or groups perform on figure skates on ice. It was the first winter sport included in the Olympics, in 1908.
WHAT IS ICE SKATING?
Ice skating is a way of moving across ice. Skaters push and glide on steel runners attached to the bottom of special boots.
There are two main kinds of competitive ice skating. In speed skating, skaters race for the fastest time over various distances. In figure skating, they earn points for performing a series of jumps, turns, spins, and leaps.
Ice skating requires skates that fit well. The steel runners are narrow. They must be kept sharp. The runners on figure skates have a slightly raised center to make them easier to turn. Toothed edges in front, called toe picks, help figure skaters do certain turns and jumps.
Speed skates weigh less than figure skates. The runners are longer, narrower, and flat on the bottom. Sharp forward points on speed skates can be dangerous. Most beginners learn to skate using figure skates.
BASIC SKATING TECHNIQUES
Ice skaters use special moves to maneuver. The most basic move is called stroking. This move involves pushing the feet from side to side, rather than putting one foot in front of the other, as in walking. When one foot pushes out, the skater glides forward on the other foot.
To turn, skaters must learn the crossover. In a crossover, a skater crosses and uncrosses the feet while stroking through a turn. To turn to the right, for example, a skater crosses the left foot over the right foot.
To stop, beginning skaters often use the snowplow stop. In this move, a skater pushes the heels out and the toes in, while keeping the knees close together. In the T-stop, a skater glides forward on one skate while placing the other skate at a right angle to it. The skater comes to a stop with the feet in a T formation.
ADVANCED SKATING TECHNIQUES
Once the basic moves are mastered, skaters may learn more difficult moves. These include backward skating, turns, spins, jumps, and dance steps.
Many difficult moves are named for skaters who invented them. A salchow is a jump named for Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow. A skater begins this move by gliding backwards, then leaping from the back edge of one skate. The skater turns in the air and lands on the back edge of the other skate.
A loop is a spinning jump that starts and ends on the same foot. Top skaters can complete triple loops, spinning three times before landing.
The most difficult jump is the axel, invented by Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen. In a typical single axel, a skater begins the jump facing forward. The skater springs up from the left skate and completes 1y rotations in the air. The skater lands traveling backward on the right skate.
In competition, speed skaters usually race on an oval track. A standard track measures 1,312 feet (400 meters). A short track measures 362 feet (111 meters). Skating tracks have just two lanes.
In some speed skating races, the winner is the one who records the best time. In other kinds of races, whoever crosses the finish line first wins the race.
Speed skaters swing their arms for a powerful thrust forward. In short races, skaters may reach speeds of more than 34 miles per hour (50 kilometers per hour)!
Figure-skating competitions feature a short program and a long program. In the short program, a skater performs a series of required moves. In the long program, there are few requirements. In both, judges award points for performance. Skaters are judged on their technical skill as well as their grace of movement. A perfect score is 6.0.
There are separate figure-skating competitions for men and women. There is also pairs skating, an event in which a man and a woman compete as a team. Other types of figure skating include ice dancing and precision skating.
HISTORY OF ICE SKATING
About 12,000 years ago, humans learned to skate on animal-bone runners. They used their skates for transportation on frozen lakes and rivers.
People started skating for fun perhaps 1,000 years ago in the cool lands of northern Europe. By the 1400s, The Netherlands hosted speed-skating competitions.
An American dancer named Jackson Haines invented figure skating in the 1870s. He revolutionized the sport by bringing basic dance steps into skating.
The invention of refrigeration gave a big boost to ice skating. By the late 1800s, artificial ice rinks were built in many places. Ice arenas made skating a year-round sport, even in places without natural ice.
Today, many countries hold ice-skating competitions. The best skaters of each country compete every year at the World Championships. Every four years, the world’s best skaters compete for medals at the Olympic Winter Games.
American speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics. No other speed skater has accomplished this feat. In women’s competition, America’s Bonnie Blair won five gold medals in three different Olympics—1988, 1992, and 1994.
In figure skating, Norway’s Sonja Henie won three gold medals in the 1920s and 1930s. Her graceful moves helped popularize the sport. Germany’s Katarina Witt won gold medals in 1984 and 1988.
Other great female stars include the American skaters Michelle Kwan, a five-time world champion, and Tara Lipinski. In 1998, Lipinski became the youngest gold medalist in the history of the Winter Olympics.
Male figure-skating greats have included the American skaters Dick Button and Scott Hamilton, and the Canadian skater Elvis Stojko.