Friday, December 5, 2014


Although I passed Ice Dance level 1 way back when (been so long I'd have to re-read my own blog to remember exactly when) and passed level 2 at the end of September, it took forever for the rink to order the badges.  I finally got 'em this afternoon at the start of a public session.  Better late than never!
Beyond that I can report that after putting slightly over 20 hours on my new boots and blades my single foot spin finally reported for duty this afternoon.  It was drunk and disorderly but at least it showed up.  My new boots are a half size smaller and the new blades are a quarter inch longer than the old equipage so the location of the spin rocker is in a slightly different place alone the blade.  I still haven't jumped in the new boots since the blades are still on the temporary screws; I haven't quite decided whether or not I'm happy with the blade position but I guess I'm growing accustomed to the place (sorry, couldn't resist).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Punching out.

I now have a little under twenty hours in my new boots.  Most of the pressure points associated with new, stiff boots have worked themselves out but there are still a couple areas, namely around the pinky toe of each boot which continue to annoy me.  I asked Mike to punch out those areas.  For those reading this post who are not familiar with the process of "punching out", it's basically a way of removing pressure points in boots by locally stretching the offending area. Figure skate boots have to be stiff and close fitting in order to support the ankle during jump landings and spins.  At the same time, the ankle must be able to bend deeply in order to get and hold the strong edges required by most skating elements.  It's not exactly a mutually exclusive scenario but sometimes it can feel that way. Bottom line: if the boots are eating your feet, you're not a happy skater.

My right boot getting punched out on the outside edge near the toe box.  My pinky toe is much happier now.
Want to see a boot punch in action?  Check out this youtube video:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sometimes Hockey Boyz Have All the Fun.

Don't believe me?  Check out these way Kool rollergards

The rollergard folks say that they're working on a model for figure skates. I'll be checking back!

Still not convinced?    Take a look at these neat-o Skaboots

I could go for a pair of the florescent green ones!
Again, it appears that these are currently off the figure skate radar screen.  Bummer!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Breaking in is so, so very hard to do.

Apologies to Paul Anka for today's post title.  Yesterday was a big day for your old diarist: my new skates were in at Skater's Paradise, so directly after my ice dance lesson it was time to point the bow of the might Volvo station wagon south towards Waldorf.  I arrived just after 1pm to discover my new heat moldable boots were already in the oven.  Mike brought them into the fitting room and warned me to mind the hooks (Hot!) as I put them on.  He laced up the boots to a tension which he liked and told me to enjoy the cooling process while he and Joan attended to other customers.  Every so often he'd come over and feel one of the boots and after 20 minutes or so he had me slip them off.  He then took the boots to the rink snack bar's freezer room where he parked them for 10 minutes to quickly remove the latent heat and lock in the shape which my feet had left inside the boot interiors.

After that, I told him I wanted to take a tracing of the blades before he sharpened them.  This would give me a reference point after future sharpenings.  Each sharpening removes a bit of metal and over time the overall rocker profile as well as the location of the spin rocker part of that overall profile tend to change and flatten out.  And although I plan to return to Skater's Paradise for sharpenings, one can't predict that I'll always live close by or indeed how many more years Mike and Joan will remain in business.  It only takes one bad sharpening to ruin a pair of blades.

My new Ultima Aspire XP blade profile before the 1st sharpening.  Mike humored me.
After the sharpening it was time to go out on the ice to check blade positioning.  I kinda hoped I wouldn't make a total fool of myself--new blades are always a bit spooky at first; your muscle memory has become accustomed to the old blades which over the course of many sharpening have lost a bit of the rocker.  I stepped gingerly onto the ice with the master watching.  I took a few strokes and it felt like I was a raw beginner!  I perimeter stroked a couple laps and as I did the blades started to feel a little better under foot but whoa baby, compared to my old blades the new ones were like the difference between a Ferrari and a pickup truck.  I tried an outside forward three turn (in my "good" direction) and almost bought the farm.  After a few more laps I tried doing some power pulls and felt a lot steadier.  I T-stopped in front of Mike and he said "you were going at a pretty fast clip.  I was hoping you wouldn't have to slam on the brakes."  It was a public session and yepper depper, there were a fair number of ice tourists on the rink.  Funny, it felt like I was crawling--sort of deceptive, like driving a new powerful but quiet car and discovering that you're doing 80 when you thought you were at the speed limit.  Back we went into the shop.  Mike adjusted the blades slightly and put in enough screws to keep things from moving until I have the boots broken in.  As for the boots, they're much stiffer than my old ones even though they're the same model.  Besides being new, boot designs (even within the same model) constantly evolve.  I told Mike I wanted to skate the public session long enough to see if there were any spots in the boots that needed punching out before I left.  He told me that although he could slip me out on the ice for a few minutes for test purposes, if I wanted to skate longer I'd need to buy a pass.  Fair enough.

A little friendly reminder from rink management on the public session wrist band.  Kinda reminds me of the disclaimers at the end of ads for the latest offerings from a pharmaceutical company: "be sure to ask your doctor if death, bodily injury or property damage are right for you..."

Anyway, I got back out on the ice and skated the last 30 minutes of the session.  That was just about the right amount of time for me to gain back most of my forward skills and learn what parts of the boots I needed to have punched out.  It also gave me the opportunity to test whether going down a half-size in boots would eliminate the dreaded heel slippage which has been part and parcel of my old ones practically from the first day.  In the new boots my heels felt locked down even though the laces were only "snug" rather than in "as tight as I can physically make them" mode; and the top hooks were left undone in the interests of ankle bend; and I didn't have bunga pads on (an obligate requirement to take up the slop in the old boots). Whoot! Whoot!  It will probably take a couple weeks to break in the boots and adjust to the new blades but after that, Look Out!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A new beginning

With every visit I discover something new.  How I missed this poster during my first visit is a mystery.  Skater's Paradise, it seems, isn't exclusively about figure skating.  The Cunninghams have their share of admirers in the NHL.  Here we see Bobby Orr in full flight.

Back in the 1970s, I was in the Coast Guard, attached to the Cutter Sherman which in those days called Boston her home port.  When the ship was in port I was occasionally lucky enough to see Bobby Orr skate for the Bruins.

But skater's Paradise isn't all about the past.  Here's a brochure for the USFSA Championships which take place this coming January in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This leaflet looks even further into the future.

 So, OK, today I went to my fitting appointment for new boots.  My current boots and blades will be three years old this coming February--which I've been told is an eternity for figure skating boots.  Either that or I'm just hard on my equipment.  Mike suggested that I should stay with Jackson boots since I have wide feet.  Interestingly, after measuring my feet he reduced the boot size from nine and a half to size nine.  We discussed various Jackson models.  I'm currently in the Freestyle model.  Mike recommended that I stay with that since the next boot above the Freestyle model is quite a bit stiffer.  Female skaters have an intermediate stiffness boot within the Jackson line up but males do not.  Mike didn't want to "over boot" me and I told him that he was the doctor, so another pair of Freestyles, abet a half size, smaller it is.

He suggested that I move up to Aspire blades with cross cut toe picks.  This is a step up from my current Mirage blades which have straight cut picks.  Both the Mirage and Aspire feature an 8 foot rocker and have 1/2" radius of hollow so I shouldn't notice a big difference in blade feel.  New generation Freestyle boots come standard with Aspire straight cut picks.  Hopefully the slightly smaller boots will eliminate the heel slop I've dealt with almost from the beginning with my current boots.  The new Freestyles also have much better padding for the tongue of the boots than the previous boots, as well as a rolled and padded collar area around the top of the boots for a bit more comfort when deeply bending the ankle.  The boots and blades should arrive in a week or so.  I'm looking forward to having new, potentially better fitting boots.  I'm hoping the break-in period is swift and not too painful.  It remains to be seen what, if any, difference the cross cut picks will make.  Bottom line is not a lot of change.  The $64,000 question is will the small, incremental changes to slightly smaller (better fitting) boots and slightly more aggressive blades add up to a measurably improved geezer skater?  We shall soon see!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Did you know? dept.

Did you know that the earliest Zamboni ice resurfacers were built on top of WW II military surplus Jeeps?  Now you do!

The Zamboni Model C.
Your can read more Zamboni history here.

The story of the oldest surviving Zamboni, a Model B is recounted in this account from Zamboni Newsletter Vol 5, April 1974

Twenty-five years have elapsed since Frank Zamboni completed his first successful Ice Resurfacer in 1949.  These 25 years have witnessed a tremendous change and growth in ice skating and Frank J. Zamboni & Co. is pleased to have been a part of this expanding industry.  Time has certainly flown by since 1949 and an incident that occurred last year helped bring back memories of the earlier years of resurfacing machine development.  In June, 1973, we received a phone call from Ted Dunn of the Los Alamos Skating Association in New Mexico telling us that their Zamboni® machine was involved in a fire at their rink and they required assistance in rebuilding it for the coming skating season.  When we realized that their resurfacer was the fourth machine that Frank had built and, up until the fire, was to our knowledge the oldest unit in regular operation, we decided that we ought to obtain it, rebuild it and reconstruct the story of its much-traveled history.

The first few Zamboni Ice Resurfacers were:
Unit   Model   Delivered   Purchaser                              Disposition
No. 1   A           1949         Iceland, Paramount              Dismantled
No.2    B           1950         Pasadena Winter Garden      Dismantled
No.3    B           1951         Sonja Henie Ice Revue         Unknown
No.4    B           1952         Ice Capades

The No. 4 machine was delivered to the Pan Pacific Auditorium on May 6, 1952, and was used in the Ice Capades show for the first time two days later. It was then shipped to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where it began a ten month tour of 22 cities in the United States, as well as appearances in Toronto and Montreal.  When travelling between cities, the conditioner was lifted into the snow tank by a chain hoist and the machine was then driven into a railroad baggage car.  Its operator and chief mechanic was Robert Skrak, who also skated in the show and demonstrated the machine in various arenas when requested to do so.  Bob operated the No. 4 machine and its replacement No. 16 for many years and is presently the General Manager of the Iceland Skating Arena in Berkeley,
California. Between May and July of 1953 the machine was again in Los Angeles and received a complete factory checkup prior to rejoining the show again in Atlantic City. The 1953-1954 Ice Capades Show again trouped No. 4 in the United States and Canada and the machine made its last show appearance in May, 1954, at the Denver Stockyard's Stadium. Ice Capades took delivery of the first Zamboni Model E machine in July 1954 and No.4 was traded in on this new machine.  Following factory renovation, the No. 4 was sold to the Iceland Skating Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico. W.C. "Bill" Snelson had a fire at his original Albuquerque ice arena in 1953 and decided to rebuild at another location. He was able to reopen in November 1954, and did so with the recently rebuilt Zamboni No.4. The machine was operated by Bill Snelson and Mack Griffin at this rink until it closed in August 1960. Much of the equipment, including the Zamboni, was then sold to the Los Alamos Skating Association, whose development is an interesting story worth telling.

During World War II, Los Alamos, New Mexico (present site of the Los Alamos Skating Association), changed dramatically. From a private ranch-school for boys, it grew into a super-secret city of 15,000 scientists, technicians and military personnel with the assignment of unlocking the secret of atomic power and harnessing it as a weapon. Located at 7100 feet on the sunny mesas and deep, eroded canyons of the northern New Mexico Jemez Mountain range, the Los Alamos community had to make the best of local recreational opportunities. This included a 60' x 110' oval ice rink in nearby Los Alamos canyon, which was created by flooding and damming a tiny canyon
creek. Its buildings consisted of two 14 foot square shacks and a woodburning, pot-bellied stove. Its
Skating Club subsisted on a meager budget which basically relied on a 100-plus enthusiasts at $1.00 per season membership fee.

The creation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947 made Los Alamos the world's foremost research and development laboratory in nuclear weaponry and it also diversified its interest into many peaceful uses of nuclear energy; including solutions to the world's energy crisis. With this change, Los Alamos became a normal community with families instead of G.l.'s.  The old ranch-school skating oval was enlarged to a hockey rink of 78' x 178' in 1950 and was moved 800' down Los Alamos canyon to find better shade. Another rebuilding in 1959 made the rink 90' x 210' and it now featured a 20' x 100' wing of an old dormitory at the rink site. The non-profit Los Alamos Skating Assn., in spite of their limited funds, became interested in acquiring a Zamboni. Through the travels
of their amateur adult hockey teams they became familiar with the Jeep-mounted ice making machine.  The rig intrigued the Los Alamos players because their open rink was maintained through snow, unseasonable rain and excessive weekend use, with an army surplus Fordson tractor, brush and lots of volunteer labor.

May 1961 prompted high hopes when a decision was reached in Albuquerque to convert Bill Snelson's rink to uses other than skating. Although stymied at first by a lack of funds and their policy not to borrow, the Association remained hopeful and on a Friday in August received a phone call saying they could have the machine and other rink equipment not attached to the building for their original offer of $1,500. The one stipulation was - that everything they wanted had to be removed by 6 p.m. the following Sunday. On Sunday, a caravan of Los Alamos hockey players and figure skaters (in a variety of vehicles) descended from the Jemez Mountains and arrived at the Albuquerque rink at dawn after a 2-hour, 98-mile trek. Fifteen hundred dollars changed hands about noon and by mid-afternoon the caravan replete with rubber floor tile old rental skates and other rink paraphernalia "took to the hills". Earlier in the day, No.4 departed with Association President Wally McCracken in the Zamboni driver's seat with pick-ups fore and aft to begm their 20-mile an hour return to Los Alamos. The Los Alamos rink had its Zamboni!  Through twelve skating seasons the machine operated faithfully and diligently. At 1 o'clock on a cold Sunday morning in February last year Ted Dunn was awakened by a fire call from the ice rink. By the time he arrived, the garage which housed the Zamboni and their old Jeep-plow was in flames. A loft above the machine also stored such inflammables as rubber flooring and hockey sticks. Amid the smoke and flames the old Jeep was driven out the door onto the ice. The firemen were about ready to give up on No.4 when Ted asked to give one more try to removing it from the burning garage. Soaked by the fire hoses, he re-entered the garage, threw a dampened canvas over the engine and after having to quickly tighten the battery terminals, got the engine started. Signaling to the firemen to push the burning loft up, he drove out the door, carrying burning hockey sticks, part of the garage door and other debris with him.  As a point of interest, No. 4 has been rebuilt to. its original condition, 22 years young and hopefully its travels are not yet complete.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mon Dieu! Catastrophe!

Ever have one of those days when despite your best efforts things just seem to spiral out of orbit?  I proudly arrived at the rink with enough time, for once, to warm up my legs before my ice dance lesson by walking around Allen Pond at a brisk clip.  I entered the lobby of the rink full of sweat and purpose.  Feeling ready for a productive session, I carefully pulled on my boots (newly inspired after a trip of Skater's Paradise) and as I was removing the slack from the laces of my left boot, the leather around one of the top eyelets tore through!  This was 5 minutes before the lesson.  With no good alternatives, I skipped those eyelets, (telegraphing even more tension to the remaining good eyelets), and told myself I still had plenty of support--so suck it up buttercup.  I was able to stagger through the lesson in reasonable form, and afterwards took my injured boot to a local cobbler.  The lady looked at the boot, shook her head worryingly and then, after discussing various patching strategies, told me "$15 dollar, you pay now.  Boot ready Tuesday."  English is not her first language, hopefully leather repair is.  So that's it.  No skating until Tuesday after 4pm--assuming my cobbler remains timely.  I was hoping to delay springing for new boots until after Christmas but I think they're gently telling me that they're tired of the constant punishment, and that they long for retirement.  And what of the lesson itself?  Despite my best intentions, it was kind of a blur.  We worked on partnering and posture.  The only thing I clearly remember is the coach telling me that the female skater is the "picture"; the male skater is the "frame".  Translation:  the judges and the peeps in the bleachers are focusing on the girl in the skimpy costume--the guy in black is just an afterthought!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Pilgrim's Progress: I journey to Paradise (Skater's Paradise that is).

I booked an appointment with Mike Cunningham at Skater's Paradise back in September after my ice dance coach told me that she thought I had equipment issues with my right skate.  Conversely, I've had "issues" with the left skate almost from the beginning.  Mike is a busy man and is only available a few days per month.  After a month, my appointment day had finally arrived.  It proved to be Ymmm, Ymmm, Good.

I'm surprised the sign doesn't include weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs--they seem to cater to practically everything else.  Skater's Paradise is located within the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center in Waldorf, Maryland.  Waldorf is about a 45 minute ride down route 301 from Bowie.  The rec center is tucked away, back in a shopping mall and is invisible from the road.  I've passed this way many times going to boat regattas in Norfolk, Elizabeth City and points south and didn't realize until recently that I was passing a Skater's Mecca. 

Paradise lies somewhere inside this building.  I arrived way early for my 1pm appointment just so I wouldn't risk being late.

Skater's Paradise shares space with a hockey oriented shop.  The fitting room is a small closet to the right of the shop's entry door.  The tool room where magic is performed is to the left, deep within the hockey side of the enterprise.  The hockey part of the store is also, somewhat confusingly, run by a different "Mike".

After listening to my tale of woe, the good Doctor took my skates back into the inter sanctum.  The first thing he did was to place my left boot up side down on a cobbler's anvil and rest a steel straight edge against the side of the blade.  The blade proved badly warped.  The right blade was also warped but not as much.  Hey, maybe it's not all me after all!  If you look at the end of the work bench closest to the camera, you will see a blade straightening tool.  Basically this is a flat platform with a steel wheel on a handle which can be moved horizontally along the side of the blade, allowing pressure to be applied at targeted locations.  Mike quickly tweaked the blades on this truing stand and worked the warp out of both.  One of the best parts of going to Skater's Paradise is that Mike has an agreement with rink management so that he can put skaters out on the ice for a few minutes after a modification to see if a particular tweak is an improvement or not.  After remounting my blades we did this.  The ice at the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center proved to be fast hockey ice which amplified the fact that my blades also needed sharpening--I could barely hold a right edge (which is what my ice dance coach had picked up on).  It's always a good thing if the patient can present the symptoms in front of the physician--this is usually not my luck with either medical issues or car repairs, but I digress.  We came off the ice and Mike took the right blade off again and made up a couple of shims from a sheet of thin plastic material.  We on-ice tested several positions and thicknesses under the outside portion of my right blade before Mike was satisfied with my edge.  I was both impressed and humbled by the amount of time he took with a low level figure skater who showed up at his door with middling level equipment.  This, after all, is a man who has been the US figure skating Olympic team's skate technician for several Olympiads and has worked on the blades and boots of elite skaters.   

After spending an hour and a half tweaking my equipment, Mike took the skates one last time to the back room for a sharpening.  I waited in the fitting room with his wife Joan, admiring the autographed memorabilia from various Olympic games.  This framed sweat shirt is from the 1998 Nagano games where Tara Lipinski narrowly edged out Michelle Kwan for the ladies gold.

Yes, that's the "Kween's" autograph (with the butterfly wings over the M) above the U of USA

This autographed banner is from the 2002 Salt Lake City games.

An autographed poster from the 1994 games in Lillehammer signed by Surya Bonaly among others. No, I didn't look for Tonya or Nancy's signatures.

Michael Weiss is another satisfied customer.
For those with a technical bent here is a of pix showing the shims Mike installed under the outboard side of my right blade.   The rear stanchion has a similar shim.  Hopefully this will translate into me holding better edges on this foot. 

With over 600 hours on my current three year old boots and blades, I have a feeling this will not be my only visit to Skater's Paradise. I asked him about laces and told him that I have to retie mine after the first twenty minutes or so.  He said that's a sign of the boots breaking down rather than the laces stretching.   Mike told me many of his regulars are lucky to get a year out of a pair of high end boots.  Mike said my blades still have plenty of life in them but after having the warping removed he wouldn't bother mounting them on a new pair of boots.  All in all, a very productive session.  Of course now I've got to stop compensating and get used to blades which aren't warped and a right boot/blade combo which is angled slightly differently!  That all starts with my next moves lesson at 7am this morning...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Giving me the stick.

  photo NewPicture84.jpg

This past Thursday Coach M. gave us the stick.  OK, OK, she brought in several broomsticks to use during class to help improve our posture.  No cheap jokes will be repeated on my part about how she rode in on one.  I'm above that sort of immature humor. (Ta-Ta Boom!)

So anyway, here's the deal:  you take a broom stick and first off, you grab it in both hands and skate with it in front of your body while doing progressives, etc.  After doing that for a while you then graduate to placing the stick behind your shoulders and lacing your arms around it.  The stick hits your backbone and reminds you to straighten up and fly right.  No bonus points are awarded if you toe-pick and do a face plant.  What will next week bring?  I can't wait!

She must think my skating is salvageable-- she's pumping a hell of a lot of energy into me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Horsing around; An Ice Dance Update.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything about my attempts to learn the fundamentals of ice dancing.  About a month ago my dancing partner sidled up to me while I was removing my skates at the conclusion of a public session.  She'd been MIA for several of our coached lessons.  She said "Hi" and then announced that she was "divorcing" me as an ice dance partner.  Seems as though she'd rediscovered her earlier enthusiasm for horses. She explained that she couldn't afford the time or money for two expensive activities, and so I got the heave-ho.  Upstaged by a horse!  Can you believe it?   Well, it was fun while it lasted, I learned a thing or two about ice dance partnering and have smears of white polish and a couple small scars on the outside edge of my right skate boot to prove it.

Horses! Really!
So V. has written herself out of the script, but as one door closes, another opens.  Bowie Ice Arena, for the first time in many years, decided (who knows why?) to add back group ice dance lessons as a trial balloon for the month of September.  The timing for the four Thursday lessons was listed on the September schedule as starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. This almost guarantees exclusion of working peeps.  I normally get off work at that time.  My job is a minimum of 30 minutes away from the rink on "good" traffic days. I told myself if I were to sign up for this set of four lessons I'd need to take an hour of leave each Thursday afternoon--and so I have.

As I signed up, I briefly wondered if I'd be the only adult.  I had visions of being paired with a short, impatient ten year old who skates better than I do.  The things I do for art...

OK, so last Thursday was the first lesson.  The mythical ten year old didn't materialize but another adult (female) skater did.  It turned out that we were the only skaters to sign up for dance--perhaps not a good sign in terms of ice dance group lessons continuing into the fall, but we shall see.  N. my group lesson partner is a pleasant woman whom I've previously encountered in adult group free style lessons.  The coach for these lessons was not my familiar Coach K. but that's alright; my skating will get looked at from a fresh perspective, which might be a good thing as I'll discuss later.

Coach M. started us off by talking about posture: roll the shoulders back and stand tall.  She briefly addressed the importance of extension and toe pointing and then had us do continuous forward outside edges as a segue into forward swing rolls.  She watched and immediately questioned me if I was left handed.  I told her the story about how in grade school penmanship class you'd get smacked if you picked up the pencil with the left hand and so, although I'm right handed, I'm a suppressed leftie.  She had me do a few more edges and swing rolls and then said "you may have an equipment issue."

Wow! Stop the presses!  Maybe some small fragment of my pathetic skating can be chalked off to an "equipment issue" rather than lousy execution by the skater!  Whoot! Whoot! 

After the lesson we discussed the ins and outs of tweaking blade positions and conducting minor boot modifications.  It was decided that I should book an appointment with Mike Cunningham, a locally well known skate technician, who runs a business down in Waldorf, Maryland called Skater's Paradise.  Saying that Mike Cunningham is good is an understatement--he was selected to be the skate technician for the US Olympic Team at the recent Sochi  Winter Games (Skater's Paradise was closed all of last February).  I haven't called to make an appointment yet.  I assume it will be weeks before I can see the man and I'm wondering if a guy as low as I am on the figure skating food chain really rates the time of such an august specialist, but call him I will, and assuming I'm  granted an audience with Mr. Cunningham, my low level Jackson Freestyle skates and I will go under the maestro's microscope.

Will I suddenly be transformed into an elegant, pain-free figure skater after having my boots and blades massaged by this talented artisan?  I kinda doubt it, but at least after a session with Mike C. I'll be able to rule out faulty equipment as an excuse and reclaim total possession of  all my short comings! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Compulsory Figures Project
There's a renewed interest in what is referred to as "compulsory" or "school" figures.  This interest has sparked a new Face Book group called the Compulsory Figures Project.  Want to know more?  Check out this site and click the appropriate box to join and follow the FB group.  I discovered this group during my search for tips to improve my struggle with the Waltz Eight pattern.

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:

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!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Skating at the beach

Diaristfamily spent the last two weeks at the beach near Atlantic City, New Jersey.  We were visited by the niece from Georgia who rekindled my interest in skating some three or so years ago.  With that in mind, I brought my skates along so we could slip over to the Atlantic City division of the Flyers Skate Zone. 

It was a beautiful beach day.  I hoped the public session would be empty and it was.

First off, unlike many of the other rinks which I patronize, the Skate Zone doesn't cut any slack in terms of fees for either youth or geezers.  You wanna skate?  That'll be $8 bucks and $3 bucks if you need skates.  Freestyle sessions are $12 bucks/hour. Second point: this rink, like Piney Orchard in Maryland, tends to dim the interior lighting to barely adequate.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  I like to see my tracings on the ice.  Having said that, saving energy in a facility that gobbles electricity is understandable.  After all, this is summer and my hopes for an empty rink were realized.  The day niece and I skated there were the two of us, a single speed skater and three boyz on hockey skates.  Yep, six skaters.  The boyz soon engaged in a high speed game of tag but were not a bother.  The speed skater was very predictable.  However he was given to makingodd grunting noises at irregular intervals which gave the sensation of attending a tennis match at Wimbledon--that is if Wimbledon tennis was played inside a dimly lighted cave.

The rental skates rubbed little Miss enough that she decided to go to the beach on the second opportunity a few days later.  On that occasion there were more skaters but still a nice low density with a couple of coaches and private students, another adult figure skater, a hand full of boyz and my friend on speed skates.  All the folks I interacted with were very friendly and after just two visits I think I could easily integrate into the local figure skate crowd.  Nice to have a home away from home.

The AC Flyers Skate Zone is located at 501 North Albany Ave, Atlantic City.  If you vacation at one of the south Jersey beach resorts and decide to bring your skates along keep in mind that like many rinks, this one does shut down for annual maintenance.  This rink's down time occurs during the last three weeks of July.

The rink is within sight of the casinos if that's your thing.

Across the parking lot one sees the "Sand Castle" Stadium.  This, like the ice rink was built on what once was Bader Field, a small air strip.  The Sand Castle once hosted minor league baseball but closed a few years ago.  Last summer the facilities were spruced up for a Dave Matthews concert.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Whirling dervish

Whirling dervish?  Not me.  I'm still struggling with my forward single foot spin.  I have what is known on the skating forum as a "Sarah Palin spin" (on a clear day it travels all the way from here to Russia).  It's so bad that a junior competitive skater mistook it and congratulated me for having a great twizzle.

I was over a Piney Orchard, Thursday afternoon, and after another frustrating day of getting no better with the single foot spin, the tempting thought occurred that perhaps I should play to my strengths rather than my weaknesses.  Problem with that approach is that if I start experimenting with twizzles I'll probably (a). never center a spin properly for the rest of my life and (b). I may not learn enough to twizzle either.  But who am I to kick temptation in the mouth?  Sweet pipes, play on!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bowie to get a new two-sheet rink

I've been attending city council meetings, not because I hang on every word from our local pols, but rather to lend support for a new ice arena in my home town.  Of course there have been several groups representing competing interests, all vying for council's ear and the limited funding which the town can muster.   These groups had agendas  supporting facilities ranging from an aquatic center, to more outdoor turf facilities,  to gymnasiums with basketball/volley ball courts, etc.  And yes, there were also groups against all of the above if taxes were to go up.  When it came down to a vote this past Tuesday evening, the council went 6 to 1 in favor of a multi-sports complex which includes a new two-sheet ice arena.

Hopefully once the new arena is functional there will be more opportunity for adult figure skaters during early evening hours when most working adults can actually use the ice.  For example it would be nice to have sessions specifically for ice dance.  Currently, ice dance lessons and practice take place during public sessions or free style sessions.  Neither are optimal, especially during the crowded holiday season or the run up to late winter/early spring competitions.  Another benefit of a two-sheet arena is that we should be able to avoid the dreaded two month annual maintenance closure that we currently endure each spring.  One sheet or the other should always be up.   

I am glad that the supporters of the new ice rink thought things through and didn't over reach by asking for a three-sheet arena.  The only facility near us with more than two sheets of ice is struggling financially, even with a strong hockey presence, and as a result one hears constant complaints about poor ice quality and other obvious cost cutting measures while at the same time charging over the odds.  I think we can support two sheets.  Three doesn't appear to be economically feasible--at least not in this area.

Anyway, you can read all about it here: 

Ironically,  by the time the new arena opens I'll probably be retired and thus will have the time flexibility to skate whenever it's convenient.  I have to keep reminding myself it isn't always about me!

Friday, May 9, 2014

So, you think you're strong and flexible? Get a load of this.

While not ice skaters, the Ross sisters certainly display a full range of motion that many figure skaters will envy.  My entire body hurts after just one viewing! The real action begins at about the one minute mark of this four minute clip.  A diarist "tip of the hat" to skating friend, S. for directing my attention to the video clip above.  I had not heard of this trio before.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On the road to enlightenment; What do we want? "MINDFULNESS!" When do we want it? "NOW!"

Along with warming up/down and stretching before/after taking the ice, I also go to a local yoga class.  I'm not a particularly diligent yogi.  I only go once or twice a week.  But it's different.  Different enough that it's already opened my eyes to new possibilities:

Found this in a local bottle shop.  I normally drink IPAs but decided to give it a go.  I took a bottle to my yoga instructor; kinda like bringing the teacher an apple but kickin' it up a notch.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rhythm Blues

The RB is the third of the three so called "preliminary" pattern dances that most beginning ice dance students tackle.  Just in time for a certain person, K & O have posted a video demonstrating this dance.  I particularly like that they've used more pleasing music than what's typically on offer.  To be frank, most of the music used at this level recommends itself mainly because the beat contained within the respective tune is strongly emphasized and, in turn, the tempo has the correct number of beats per minute.  Both of these qualities are important during the learning of a dance, particularly in the case of neophytes like your diarist for whom "musicality" and "artistic interpretation" are characteristics just barely within detectable limits. 

Beyond that, most of the music inflicted upon students does little to popularize ice dancing.  It amazes me that kid-couples can get pass the ick factor contained in this genre and stick with ice dance.  Goes to show how dedicated they are!

Enough of that.  Enjoy the new video.  Thanks again to Kseniya and Oleg.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Even the Wall St. Journal reports on adult figure skaters

I saw a link to this article and couldn't resist sharing.  Adults seem to be folks in their 40s and 50s.  Wait'll those kids get to be my age.  Anyway, enjoy.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A chance to help.

Kseniya and Oleg

This weekend coach K, plus my dancing partner, as well most of the competitive skaters from our rink are down at Yorktown, Virginia for the ISI District 4 competition.  This means that your old diarist didn't have a dance lesson yesterday.  So I hugged the pillow and surfed the internet instead.  Among the various sites I visited, I saw that Kseniya Ponomaryova and Oleg Altukhov are attempting to raise funds for the upcoming competition season.  I enjoy watching their youtube videos and have posted their excellent Canasta Tango video here and their explanation of the scoring for 2014 ice dance season here.

They have many, many other instructive videos, all freely available on youtube.  Long story short, I decided since I wasn't spending money on a dance lesson I'd donate that small amount towards their expenses.  I figure it's kinda like supporting a local npr station.  If you benefit, then you should.  Lots of other groups and causes ask for my money but few give me anything tangible in return.

Details here:

Postscript:  Bowie's ISI senior synchro team took gold at Yorktown this morning.  Whoot! Whoot!  Haven't heard yet how the three kid-couple ice dance teams made out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Warming up to the idea...

While I can claim to be a long time racer of small sailing dinghies (started at age 11) and an off again/on again ice skater (started in my late 20s), I've never been a high level athlete in any individual or team sport.  So while I'm aware that such people routinely "warm up" before engaging in their various activities, the concept of exactly what's involved has always been hazy to me at best.  When I was younger, looking back at my experience racing boats, warming up seemed unnecessary.  Yes, the first few times back in the boats during the spring would leave me aching, but in a week or so I'd "sail" myself back into shape.  Looking back, I now appreciate that if I'd have had an off the water training program, I would have probably done better at regattas, particularly the ones with strong winds, which put a high premium of the ability to hike the boat flat at all times during those seemingly never ending legs to the weather mark.

When I returned to the ice as a rusty recreational skater I was more interested in recovering lost skills than worrying about my aging carcass.  I figured a low level skater didn't need much if any sort of warm up.  To a degree that approach worked OK.  The skills I was working on were low level.  My edges weren't deep.  Timing was unimportant.  Now that I'm a slightly higher level rec skater with an eye on competing, the light bulb is finally coming on.   I'm becoming more aware of my limitations.  Limitations in flexibility, limitations in strength, limitations in endurance.  Don't even talk to me about the increased length of time required to recover from an injury.  At my age injuries are best avoided.

These limitations are very obvious to both me and my coaches during the first 15 minutes or so of ice time.  Given that my lessons are only 30 minutes long I've become acutely aware of how wasteful it has become to step out on the ice "cold".  This little epiphany got me thinking a little beyond looking at the web site which I'd posted about earlier.  So I asked coach K. to make a few recommendations.  It turned out that many of the stretches she listed were the same or similar to the ones listed in the link above that I'd halfheartedly visited earlier.  In addition she told me to warm up my legs first by taking a short walk--advice that I'd also heard before but had ignored.  Who has the time?  I barely get from work to the lessons and sessions on time.  Clearly, to advance that excuse must be retired.  Coach K. also recommended side lunges.  I didn't know what those were but a quick visit to youtube provided an education:

 So I went for a walk, dusted off the Canadian stretches and did some side lunges.  On taking the ice I have to admit that I seemed to be able to skate smoother sooner that usual.  Wishful thinking?  I don't think so.  The first time I did a progressive using a deep knee bend, I was immediately reminded of the side lunges I'd done just a few minutes earlier.  I think this is the first time I've been able to directly connect a stretching exercise to a skating element.  The light bulb got a little brighter.

Coach K. also recommended that I go to Kat Arbour's Ice Dynamics web site and pick up a copy of her training manual.  To tell the truth, I have visited this web site in the past but have resisted buying the book or any of the paraphernalia by telling myself that all the stuff would just gather dust like most of the other self-improvement gear I've bought over the years--Solo Flex machines, Nordic Trac gizmos--great for hanging laundry after the novelty wears off.  But, since I asked her for advice I made myself look again.  Much to my shock I discovered that Kat is discontinuing the manual and instead will be offering individual training programs aimed at competitive skaters.  She still has a few copies left, so if you're like me and have been on the fence, it's now or never.  Coach K. sang praises about this manual to the heavens.  I've ordered my copy.  For your diarist there's nothing quite so motivating as the panicky notion of missing the boat...

Will this book succeed where others have failed and transform a stiff, inherently lazy old dilettante into a rubber band man on skates?  Only time will tell.  I'm hoping it will at least help me avoid hurting myself!  I also like to think that my desire to continue improving as a skater will provide the real motivation, with Kat's and Coach K's guidance helping me avoid my natural tendency of slacking off.  Having a clear goal rather than some vague notion of doing stretches because they're somehow "good" for me may by the trick I've needed all along.  Stay tuned.  Once I receive the manual and start exploring Kat's recommendations I'll give you an update. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Check please...

While I'm ruminating about foundation figure skating terms which are simultaneously widely used but poorly explained, the one which *really* annoys me the most, (no doubt because of my personal lack of execution), is the term "check".  This was highlighted the other day when a fellow adult skater asked me to define the term.  After a bit of hem-hawing, the best I could do was to mumble something about moving one's arms and maybe the free leg in order to snuff out the rotational momentum initiated by the curve leading into a turn or jump or a spin.  I did a 3-turn to demonstrate "checking" but couldn't offer a concise description of the  actual mechanics of what was going on. 

Unsatisfied, I went home and did what any 21st century human would do; I went on a google-search safari.  My first stop was  USFSA's on-line glossary of skating terms.  Guess what?  It doesn't bother to list the word "check".  I suppose their stance is if you need to ask about something this basic, you probably ought to forget about figure skating and take up stamp collecting.

Googling a little deeper, <> wasn't all that informative either, saying only that "In figure skating, when a skater lands a jump or completes a turn, he or she checks the landing or checks the turn. Checking prevents the skater from continuing to turn or rotate once a jump or turn is completed."  Don't you just love circular definitions?

Other on-line sources were equally vague and continued google-trolling quickly disintegrated into nonsense; disclosure: no porn sites were "surveyed" during the creation of this blog post.  I was left wondering is there no source brave enough to define exactly what goes on during this mysterious "checking" business? 

I next dug out my three favorite figure skating books, sections of which I reread like a hypochondriac attempting yet another self diagnosis based on whichever demon has resurfaced as my wonky element du jour.  Here's how those authors weigh in on the subject :

Karin Kunzle-Watson's Ice Skating Steps to Success  talks about "turning within the arms".  This description may be perfectly clear to some readers but it leaves your old diarist more, rather than less mystified.

Carole Shulman's The Complete Book of Figure Skating comes a bit closer in defining a check, stating that one checks "to stop or control rotation by reversing the arms against the hips".

Finally, turning to Robert S. Ogilvie's classic book Basic Ice Skating Skills  I came across the following sentence in reference to a three turn:  "Check is the reversal of the rotation that is deliberately set up to make the turn."

I read and reread different parts of each book, sifting through the words like a fortune teller examining tea leaves in an attempt to integrate these three statements.  Maybe I should have dug out my "magic 8 ball".

Where did this consultation with the skating oracles leave me?  For one thing, it made me realize that although check implies the ability to control rotational momentum, successfully obtaining that control is achieved by different means during each situation wherein one is handed the fleeting chance of either extinguishing left over rotation or quickly spiraling out of orbit.

Using Ogilive's example of a forward outside three turn, from personal experience I can report that successfully controlling this single foot turn requires different applications of "checking" depending on how much speed a skater is carrying into the turn.  If I execute a FO3 at a pedestrian pace, a slight tweak of the shoulders might be all that's required.  If I barrel into the same turn with a lot of heat the turn then requires careful control of the arms, the shoulders, the hips, keeping the chin up, remembering to smile, and oh yes, that free leg had better not drift around too much or I'll be forced to put the free skate down on the ice long before I originally intended.  Unintentional "dropped 3s" don't git-ya where ya wanna go in terms of demonstrating control--especially during the Waltz Eight portion of the Pre-Bronze Moves test.

So, to a degree, the amount of speed or perhaps more accurately, the amount of momentum preceding the element dictates what the definition of "check" will be in that particular situation.  Check then, is not a "one size fits all" kinda thing.  It turns out to be a moving target.  I'm going to need literally hundreds of check definitions.  Let's see, there are six or so turns, each with eight family members, a half dozen single rotational jumps (forget about doubles; ain't happenin' in my lifetime), and several spins, all of which can be entered into with differing amounts of momentum.  Yep, that's a whole lot of definitions.   This is why no one but a foolish old diarist attempts to nail down the term.

So, I feel better for all that.  Sort of.  At least for the moment.  Well, not really.  The true skating hypochondriac is never far from his next demon...