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... 


  1. CG Tampa, CG Tampa, this is Ice Rink Bowie. I read your traffic, loud and clear. Roger. Wilco. Over.

  2. A check is always the same for me. Is it always as difficult, no. Because it requires a lot of strength depending on how strong the momentum of the turn is. But it's always the same. It is controlling the rotation. For me, this is mostly accomplished with my hips. My hips did the turning, my hips stop the turning. My hips are very open so it becomes a matter of controlling them. It's also in the shoulder outside the curve, not letting it open out.

    I always thought of "check" as being the body position you have to be in to control the momentum of the rotation. Hips square, shoulders square. And by square, I mean both directly forward and level with the other side.

  3. Q: I agree that shoulders should be level and hips should not be allowed to drop, but other respects of check can be quite different depending on the elements under consideration. For example, closed vs open Mohawks require different free leg positions which are part of checking those turns. Additionally, turns done while in dance hold do not permit the same freedom in terms of arm positions as when done solo.

    1. I'm a single skater, so I know nothing of checking while in a dance hold. I'm sure that's not the only thing different from single skating. But as for mohawks, closed or open, my free leg after the turn is in basically the same position. It's all in my hips and shoulders. I can tell when I've not checked properly b/c first my hip opened too much, then I lost the tension in my shoulder. I dunno, maybe some skaters are different. I was just giving my perspective when I check. It's the same body position regardless of what I'm trying to check.

  4. Q: Thanks for you comments. The fact that two individuals participating in the same sport are having trouble with the word "check" underlines my original premise that a lot of foundation terms for figure skating are poorly defined. I'm certainly no expert. I wrote these posts as an exercise to get me thinking about my own fuzzy misunderstanding of the technical side of our sport. The way terms are defined makes me slightly crazy at times. It would be interesting to hear what others might contribute to this discussion. It would either be crystal clear or clear as mud!

  5. The whole concept of check gets even murkier depending on what turns you are doing and in what sequence. For example how you check doing a back choctaw fwd counter sequence is different from a back choctaw fwd rocker sequence. And you are so right on the effect speed had on controlling the rotation. I'm learning that a lot of my capacity to control the rotation in a turn really is in the knees and ankles too.