Sunday, August 24, 2014

My latest "new" old book.

Those of you with high thresholds for boredom (I know you're out there) no doubt recall some of my earlier posts about old skating books in my collection, such as this one from a couple years ago.   Well my dears, it's time to get out the no-doze 'cause your old diarist has bought himself another golden oldie:  The Fun of Figure Skating  by Maribel Vinson Owen.  This book is available on-line for free but I hate staring at a screen and prefer the tactic feel of turning the pages of a book. Yeah, yeah, it's the 21st century, so shoot me--I'm a "tree media" kinda guy.

Maribel Vinson Owen was eight times the Ladies Champion, U.S. pairs National champion 6 times (with two different partners) and won a bronze medal at the '32 Olympics at Lake Placid.  She coached Tenley Albright to a gold medal and also coached Frank Carroll.  Her book is one of the few which describes some of the simpler school figures, which includes my current nemesis, the waltz eight.  Maribel wasn't all that impressed with how high a skater could jump or how fast he could spin.  From her perspective  a skater was only as good as his edges.  "Show me your outside forward eight and I will tell you just how fine a skater you are" was a statement she fully endorsed.

Maribel, then a U. S. team coach, and her daughters, who were the current reigning U. S. champions in Ladies and pairs, were killed in an airplane disaster along with most of the U.S. National team in 1961.  Fifteen year old Lorraine Hanlon was a team alternate.  Her parents had bought her a ticket but her school told the Hanlon family that since Lorraine had already missed the maximum number of school days she would not graduate if she missed school for the World Championship in Prague.  She was at first listed with those killed on the plane but was later found alive back in Boston.  Lorraine's account of the tragedy and her  competitive skating experiences (you think your coach is demanding? HA!) can be read here.  American competitive skating didn't recover until the Peggy Fleming era. 

This was an expensive book for the early 1960s.  In today's money it would cost over $55.00.  My copy cost around $25.00, so a relative bargain.  After reading the section on the waltz eight, the book has already paid for itself:  I now realize that the W8 is composed of three skating elements which I know how to do:  a forward three turn, a back outside edge and a forward outside edge.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Now if I can just convince my legs of that little fact... 

I find it interesting that she introduces the spread eagle before either the inside Mohawk or outside forward three turns.  She is very adamant about how anyone, regardless of closed hips, can with proper coaching learn how to do spread eagles!  She also rather firmly believes that introducing beginners to the three turn too early is one of the worst mistakes a coach can make.  Hmmm, maybe that's my problem...

I like Chapter IX:  "You Are A Good Skater Now".  If you made it to Chapter IX with Maribel breathing down your collar, no doubt you would be or else!

I found this sales slip mid way through Chapter IV:  "Completing the fundamental figures".  I wonder if the original purchaser made it to the end of the book.

The book was apparently purchased at the Chicago branch of Marshall Field & Co.  I love the sense of an unsolvable mystery that a used item provides--who was the first owner?  Did (s)he become a successful figure skater?  I like to think so and hope that this individual is still skating strongly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Another Day, Another Owie.

Let's cut straight to the chase: I went down hard at the rink last night. My dancing partner is still "on retreat" so coach K. and I were working on pre-bronze Moves stuff.  My Waltz 8 is improving but my "swingy" CCW 3-turn still leaves a lot to be desired.  Towards the end of the lesson my coach, probably in a moment of desperation (do you ever cause moments of desperation for your coach?) introduced me to alternating 3-turns.  She told me to work on them, saying "These are part of a higher MIF level than what you're trying to do but if you can manage to master them you'll be able to hold the edge coming out of that messy 3-turn of yours." And as our time was up, she then skated off to coach her next student.

What are alternating 3-turns you might ask?  I'll do my best to describe them:  draw a line on a piece of paper.  On one side of the line draw a cursive number 3 keeping the beginning, the cusp and the exit tracing all on one side of the line.  That's your first 3-turn.  Upon coming to the line with the exit edge, step over the line with your free foot and carve the opposite 3-turn, again keeping everything on that side of the line.  Continue doing this alternating pattern until you run out of space.  Since a video clip is worth a thousand words I'll let "geowench" demonstrate.  Impatience alert: things don't get moving on this clip for the first 15 seconds or so.




I was sort of getting the hang of this and mentally patting myself on the shoulder when I screwed up big time.

It was not one of those falls where your life flashes before your eyes in slo-mo and you have time to think about rolling up into a ball and protecting yourself.  It was more like one minute I was skating, and then--I wasn't.

I went down like a ton of bricks, smack dab on the trochanter of my right hip. Thankfully I had on my d3o padded shorts, etc.  Still hurt.  Can't imagine taking that fall without the ballistic padding.  Of course everyone on the ice skated over to see if the old man had shattered like a tea cup on a concrete floor.  Staggering back to my haunches I thanked them for their concern and toughed it out to the end of the session (yeah, I'm one of those puritanical guys:  if I've paid for a 2 hour session, by damn I'm gonna skate every minute of it even if it kills me) and then went home to lick my wounds.  I had a glass of wine and an aspirin and went to directly to bed.  Every time I rolled in my sleep that damn hip woke me up.  This morning I'm not only painful but sleep deprived and thus even snarkier than usual.  Say a prayer for my co-workers and pass me the Ben-Gue.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Devil is in the details




I'm beginning to think that I shouldn't be permitted to skate without supervision.  No, not because I'm getting so old that I might wander off but rather it seems that when I practice stuff in the absence of a coach bad habits creep into my skating.  This was brought to light last night when coach K introduced me to the waltz eight, a component of the USFSA's adult pre-bronze moves in the field test

Waltz Eight.


This figure-8 pattern harks back to the origins of "figure skating" as it is an actual "figure".  The "waltz" part of this element comes from the fact that the skater is supposed to execute the various edges to a six count cadence, i.e. in waltz time.  To do a waltz eight the skater pushes off at the bottom of the top most of the co-joined circles onto a right outside forward edge.  This edge is held for a count of three.  The skater then does a 3-turn onto a right back inside edge which is also held for a count of three (six total).  Next, after a pump of right skate to maintain momentum at about the 10 o'clock position on the circle, a left outside back edge is held for a count of six.  At that point (~2 o'clock) the skater steps around onto a right outside forward edge, again held for a count of six.  This returns the skater to the bottom of the top circle.  Without stopping or hesitation, the skater then does the mirror image of these maneuvers starting at the top of the bottom circle.  To complete the pattern, the skater must go around the figure twice without stopping or putting down an inappropriate foot.  And although the two tracings from the blades no longer have to be exactly on top of each other, one must strive to keep them as close as possible in the hopes of a passing grade from the panel of judges.

This is where all those bad habits I mentioned at the beginning of this post come home to roost.  Come on--any skater can do a couple of three turns and strike some edges, right?  Yes, but probably not with this level of control.  Compulsory figures are where the rubber hits the road.  It's one thing to be able to do relatively simple skating elements when it feels "right" to pull the trigger and a whole different kettle of fish to do them on a defined pattern with this level of precision, not to mention the timing aspect.  Needless to say your diarist quickly discovered the limits of his mastery.  We gave up attempting to perform the figure and spent the remainder of the lesson beating the demons out of my three turns.  This was a bit humbling.  I'll be the first to admit that my CCW forward 3 is a bit wonky most of the time but I was surprised that, when applied to the pattern, even the 3 in my "strong" CW direction was not up to the task.  Lots of refinement needs to take place before I can hope to pass pre-bronze.  The good news is that when I'm good enough to demo a passable waltz eight pattern, I really will own the turns and edges required by this pattern.  Now if I can just remember all of the (many, many) things that coach K. said while I practice alone...



The waltz eight performed at a passing standard.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Head Games: Get nervous before tests and competitions? Brian Orser's got an App for that.



Are you all needles and pins before hitting the ice when your name is called?  Conversely do you have trouble sleeping the night before a big event?  For around $20 bucks, maybe this App by two time Silver Olympic medalist Brian Orser is for you.  One segment of the App gets you pumped up.  The other segment lulls you to dream land.  You can read a little more about it at Peak Performance's web site:

http://www.peakperformanceskating.com/

Nope, I don't have stock in this venture.  Just something that caught my eye.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Joining the Club--Setting some goals.




Up 'til now I haven't bothered with club memberships with either the ISI Team or the USFSA Figure Skating Club at my rink.  I was, and still am, taking group lessons under the rink's ISI lesson system but decided not to join anything until I was good enough to consider testing or competing.  At Bowie Ice Arena, club and team memberships begin on the first of  July and dues are in synch with the reopening of the rink after the annual two month closure for maintenance.  The ISI Skating Team seems to mostly cater to kids.  The only adult activity I've seen is the adult synchro team.  Nothing against synchro, but I'm having enough trouble attempting ice dance with just one extra person.  If I was on the synchro team I'd probably be like that first domino that triggers the fall of the entire kit and kaboodle. 

With that in mind, on 1 July I sent in my membership application to Bowie's USFSA FS Club.  I've yet to hear back from them but one of the coaches said to expect a goodly lag time since membership cards, club magazine, etc. trickle down from the National organization.  There's no real hurry. I'm not going to rush off for any tests just yet.  However, testing was in the back of my mind when I decided to join up.  Another inducement was that for first time joiners, dues are roughly half price for the first year of membership.  So, now that I've joined this opens up a whole new testing territory.  Time to do the easy part--make up a list of goals for the new skating year and see if I can pick any of them off.

 Goal Nr 1 is to pass the USFSA's adult pre-bronze moves test.  My ice dance partner was packing to go to the ISI Worlds or Intergalactics (whatever, I can't keep the names of these contests straight) up in Boston this week, so Coach K. and I worked on the elements that are part of that moves test.  All fairly basic stuff:  forward stroking, front and back consecutive inside and outside edges, front and back cross overs, waltz eight pattern and forward spirals on each leg.  Nothing here that an ISI FS-1 skater hasn't seen.  Should be a piece of cake, right?  Ha.  Doing these elements is one thing.  Doing them at the level which Coach K. indicated would be the passing standard is another.  The waltz eight pattern will definitely require quite a bit of work on my part and elements like the consecutive edges which I haven't bothered with since passing them back in delta and FS-1 will take a bit of polishing.  Even my forward stroking needs work to refine extension to qualify as passable .  But this, I tell myself, is why I wanted to take tests like this--testing will force me to clean up my foundation skills and in turn become a better skater.

Goal Nr 2 is to pass at least one of the three preliminary level ice dances before the end of the skating year.  This goal should directly benefit from the work required of goal nr 1. The rub here is that my partner is an ISI club member but not a USFSA member.  I don't know if she wants the expense of two club memberships.  We shall see.  If not I suppose that I can skate with our coach as my skating partner for testing purposes.

Goal Nr 3 has nothing to do with my new membership.  I plan to keep chipping away with free style group lessons under the ISI system and hopefully will pass FS-2 this year.  My one foot spin is improving at a glacial pace.  At some point I need to come to grips with the various half jumps that are included in FS-2.  I think I can, I think I can...     

Friday, July 11, 2014

The dreaded Click-Clack

Tuesday's and Thursday's summer rink schedule tends to bring out the over-achiever in me.  Adult group lessons run from 6pm to 6:30.  On Tuesdays, a two hour public session starts at 6:45 after ice resurfacing.  Thursday's schedule is the same except that the public session is replaced by a two hour freestyle session which mercifully can be purchased in one hour chunks.  So, I take a group lesson and then after a 15 minute break go back out for thirty minutes of practice followed by an ice dance lesson, followed by more practice (on Tuesday's less spendy ice).

This Thursday was going to plan.  I'd just finished the group lesson and walked from the rink barrier into the lobby to pay for an hour of freestyle time.  In my haste to pay for ice time I forgot to put on my hard guards as I walked the short distance from the ice to the rental counter where the ice time sign on sheet is kept.  This memory lapse was to soon prove important.  After paying, I walked back to a bench so that I could retie my boots and be ready as soon as the gate reopened.  As I walked I kept hearing a faint clicking noise.  The penny finally dropped--the noise was coming from my left skate.  I sat down and grabbed the heel of the blade.  Yep, it was loose.  The guy behind the counter had a Phillips head screw driver but even thought he's a beefy guy he couldn't get the slop out of the blade.  I looked through the lobby windows and the Zamboni was half way through resurfacing.  In a few minutes the clock would start ticking on my expensive hour of freestyle time!  I hobbled into the pro-shop and luckily my favorite skate tech had just finished sharpening a pair of skates.  Without having to remove my boots he was able to take a battery powered drill-driver and tighten the offending screws in the heels of both blades.  After thanking him profusely I quickly got out on the ice, wondering if my blades had shifted position during this little episode.  Fortunately they hadn't.  The upshot was that I missed a few minutes of ice time but it could have been a lot worse.

There are a couple of take homes from this little cautionary tale: (1) although my hearing has diminished over the years it's reassuring to know that I can still heard the faint warning signals of impending doom (!);  (2) more importantly, along with keeping track of the hours between blade sharpening, I need to be a little more attentive to inspecting the screws which hold the major parts of my equipage together so that I don't emulate the horseman in the old rhyme "for the want of a nail the kingdom was lost".   When was the last time you reached down and gave your blades a good yank?

Oh, and how did the first ice dance lesson of the new season go?  As I suspected, my partner and I have become quite rusty during the two month hiatus when our rink was closed for annual maintenance.  Having said that it felt good to be back in the harness.  Our coach didn't apply the lash too severely and I predict that we'll make good progress this new season!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Recently discovered on the Blog-o-sphere

I'm always trolling for new and interesting Blogspots related to figure skating and ice dance.  If you're interested in ice dance I recommend the "Ice Dance Analysts".  I've added that blog to the "blogs I follow" list at the right of this page.  They don't post daily, but each post which I've read is very comprehensive.  A taste of that blog's content can be sampled here.  Enjoy!