Figure skating 101: Jumps, spins and steps

Figure Skating: U.S. Figure Skating Championships

What’s difference between an Axel and a loop? What about a sit spin and a Biellmann? Here, we break down the basics of figure skating elements so that you can more easily understand what’s happening on your TV – and imbue your friends and family with your sudden skating knowledge.

Jump variations

There are six kind of jumps in figure skating, divided into two families: toe jumps and edge jumps.

In a toe jump, a skater takes off from one skate and uses the teeth-like ridge at the front, or toe, of his other skate’s blade to “pick” into the ice and propel himself upwards. The three toe pick jumps are the toe loop, flip and Lutz.

In an edge jump, a skater takes off from one foot without bringing the other foot into contact with the ice to assist the takeoff. The three edge jumps are the Salchow, Axel and loop.

What differentiates a flip from a Lutz or a loop from a Salchow? Basically, the position of the take-off foot: whether the skaters leaves the ice from his right or left foot on the inside or outside edge of the blade.

The two edges of the skate blade are on either side of the grooved center. To remember which is the inner and which is the outer edge of each skate, think of a straight vertical line from the skater’s inner thigh to the inside edge, and from the outer thigh to the outside edge.

The toe jumps are:

Toe loop

The skater takes off from the back outside edge of the right skate with an assist from the left toe pick, and lands on the back outside edge of the right skate (takes off and lands on same edge and foot).

Flip

The skater takes off from the back inside edge of the left skate with an assist from the right toe pick, and lands on the back outside edge of the right skate (takes off and lands on opposite edge and foot).

Lutz

Skating backwards on an expansive curve, the skater takes off from the back outside edge of the left skate with an assistant from the right toe pick, then rotates in the opposite direction of the curve before landing on the back outside edge of the right skate (takes off and lands on same edge and opposite foot, with a counter-rotation in the air).

This jump is named after its Austrian inventor, Alois Lutz, who first performed it in 1913.

The edge jumps are:

Salchow

Without assistance from the free foot, the skater takes off from the back inside edge of the left foot and lands on the back outside edge of the right foot (takes off and lands on opposite edge and foot).

This jump is named after Sweden’s Ulrich Salchow, 10-time world champion from 1901 through 1911.

Loop

This jump the same as a toe loop but without the assistance of the toe pick in take-off. The skater takes off from the back outside edge of the right foot and lands on the back outside edge of the right foot (takes off and lands on the same edge and foot).

Axel

The Axel is the only jump in which the skater takes off from a forward edge—they face forward into the jump instead of entering it backwards. The skater takes off from the forward outside edge of the left foot and lands backwards on the back outside edge of the right foot (takes off and lands on opposite foot, opposite direction and same edge). The skater rotates 1.5 times in the air for a single Axel, 2.5 times for a double Axel and 3.5 times for a triple Axel.

The jump is named after Norway’s Axel Paulson, who first performed it in 1882.

The jumps in ascending order of point value are:

Toe loop

Salchow

Loop

Flip

Lutz

Axel

More jumping terms:

Jump combination

Two skills performed in an immediate and consecutive order. In a jump combination, the second jump takes off from the same foot on which the first jump landed. The skater must not change feet or turn between the two jumps.

For example, a skater might do a triple flip-triple toe loop combo: taking off from the left foot and rotating three times in the air, landing on the right foot, then immediately taking off again from the right foot for another three rotations in the air.

USE IN A SENTENCE: “She gets big points for her jump combination because she makes a triple Lutz-triple toe loop look effortless.”

Jump sequence

A jump sequence is a series of two or more jumps linked by hops, unlisted jumps, steps and turns immediately following each other; the jumps are connected more loosely than the jumps in a jump combination. There cannot be more than one revolution on the ice between any hop or jump. The sequence must have a constant rhythm and must not contain crossovers.

Single jump

A jump in which the skater completes one revolution in the air (except in the case of the single Axel, in which the skater actually completes one-and-one-half revolutions). In Olympic-level competition, most single jumps are done in error; the skater intended to perform a double, triple, or quadruple jump but bailed after the take-off. These are called popped jumps.

USE IN A SENTENCE: “Oh no, he just popped his planned triple Lutz and did a single. That is definitely going to hurt his score.”

Quadruple jump

A jump in which the skater completes four revolutions in the air. In men’s skating, the high-value quad jumps are seen as essential elements of medal-winning programs. Each quad has a base value over twice as high as the corresponding triple jump. For example, a triple Salchow has a base value of 4.4 points, and a quadruple Salchow has a base value of 10.5 points.

The only quadruple jump ever landed successfully by a woman in international competition is the quad Salchow.

Side-by-Side jumps

Side-by-side jumps are a pairs element in which the partners perform a jump, jump combination or jump sequence, next to each other in unison.

USE IN A SENTENCE: “Those were great side-by-sides by the Russian pair. Look at how in sync they were!”

Throw jump

A maneuver in pairs skating in which instead of taking off from the ice, the male skater throws his female partner into the air before a jump. After completing the jumps, the female skater lands unassisted back on the ice.

Spin variations:

Biellmann

A variety of upright spin named for Swiss skater Denise Biellmann, this spin requires exceptional flexibility of the back and legs, and is performed almost exclusively by women. Standing in an upright position, the skater reaches behind her shoulders and grabs onto the skate blade of the free leg. The free leg then reaches up towards the ceiling, so the skater rotates while standing upright in a kind of reverse split position.

Camel

The skater spins on one leg with the free leg extended in the air, parallel to the ice.

Combination

The skater changes feet and/or positions while maintaining speed and a continuous spin.

Flying

A spin with a jump entry. For example, in a flying sit spin, the skater leaps upwards and assumes a sitting position at the peak of the jump before landing in a similar sitting position on the ice and performing a sit spin.

Layback

Usually performed by women, the skater spins in an upright position. As the speed of the spin increases, she drops her head and shoulders backwards, arching her back. Skaters often display a few different arm and free leg positions during the layback.

USE IN A SENTENCE: “That layback spin by Mao Asada is so elegant. I love the way she uses it with the music.”

Scratch

A type of upright spin, the scratch spin begins on a back inside edge. The free leg is extended in front of the body with the thigh raised, and the arms are up and out to the side. Bringing the free leg down and drawing the arms closer to the body accelerates the spin. Skaters achieve the highest number of revolutions per minute in the scratch spin.

Sit

A spin performed in a sitting position. Low to the ice, the skater spins with one leg bent and the other leg extended beside it.

Upright

This spin can be performed forwards or backwards. The skater spins in an upright (standing) position with the free foot positioned next to the skating foot.

Step variations:

Connecting steps

Skating moves such as turns, spirals, arabesques, spread eagles, Ina Bauers and any other flowing steps with strong edges can be characterized as connecting steps.

Crossovers

Foot movement in which the skater crosses one foot over the other in order to gain speed and turn corners. This step can be done forwards and backwards.

Spiral

A move in which the skater extends his or her free leg behind him or her during a long glide to demonstrate both flexibility and fluidity.

Step sequence

A choreographed series of steps in sync with the music, performed across the ice in straight, circular or serpentine movements to demonstrate a skater’s precision and agility. Also known as “footwork.”

USE IN A SENTENCE: “Fans really fell in love with Jason Brown’s step sequence during his ‘Riverdance’ program at the Sochi Olympics.”

Stroking

A maneuver used to gain speed. Skaters push forward from one inside edge to the other inside edge.

Other recognizable elements:

Lift

Some of the most exciting elements in pairs skating, lifts involve the hoisting of the female partner above the head of the male partner. There are several different types of lifts, differentiated according to style of entry and the position and hand holds of the pair during the lift.

Twist lift

A pairs maneuver in which the male throws his partner into the air and catches her after she has performed one, two, three, or four revolutions. He then places her back onto the ice.

Twizzle

This is one of the most easily identifiable moves in ice dancing. Ice dancers perform twizzles, which are a series of turns on one foot, side by side, preferably close to each other on the ice (though not touching). The skaters perform the rotations quickly with a continuous action. The weight remains on the skating foot, with the free foot in any position during the turn.

USE IN A SENTENCE: “Maia and Alex Shibutani were right on during those twizzles; they were moving as one.”

Death spiral

A pairs spin in which the man stands as the anchor in a pivot position while holding his partner’s hand as she spins, body extended low and parallel to the ice, around him.

Spread eagle

The skater leans either on the inside or outside edge as he or she glides in a circle, bending his or her body in the appropriate direction.

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