There's a right way and a wrong way to fall in figure skating
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
A mere fraction of a second separates landing a jump from crashing to the ice. And Patrick Chan can usually sense when he's about to go down.
Like any competitive figure skater, Chan has landed on his backside thousands of times, and has learned to lessen the blow.
There is a right way and a wrong way to fall.
"There's a certain amount of bracing that you can create to lessen the impact. I do it subconsciously now, I flex or almost contract as I hit the ice, so it's almost like a bounce as opposed to a splat on the ice," said Chan, emphasizing "splat" with a smack of his palm.
"It's a bounce where you kind of get a skip and get right back up on your feet. You're not killing all your momentum on the ice, you're carrying it across the ice, like the skip of a stone."
If only falls were as graceful as skipping stones.
The Gangneung Ice Arena has hosted a pageantry of unflattering tumbles at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
"I hate falling," said world silver medallist Kaetlyn Osmond. "I hate falling with a passion, and I think that's part of the reason why I learned my jumps and learned how to do them well because I hate, hate falling."
From alpine skiing to short-track speedskating, numerous winter sports feature spectacular crashes. But there's nothing quite like a wince-inducing fall in figure skating. It's a jarring interruption to a skater's program, like a punctuation mark in a beautiful line of poetry.
"There are falls where I'll come back to my coach Lee (Barkell) and I'll say 'I can feel my stomach in my throat,'" said Gabrielle Daleman, who won bronze behind Osmond at last year's world championships. "There are falls where you literally can feel your organs jump up and down."
Canada's two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford added the throw quadruple Salchow for the 2014-15 season, but the hours of perfecting it — and falling while doing it — took a toll on the 32-year-old Duhamel.
"I have a permanent indent in my right hip from falling on the throw quad," Duhamel said. "But it's part of the game."
Few pairs teams in history have perfected a quad throw, which sees Radford hurl Duhamel four revolutions through the air. She lands backwards on one foot. Radford joked that when he tosses her, he does it with his best wishes of "Good luck!"
In the jump's early days, Duhamel fell on the same spot in her lower back so many times, she couldn't sit in her car to drive home. She stuffed padding down the back of her pants at practice to cushion the blow.
A fall comes with a one-point deduction, and can be the difference between gold and missing the podium entirely. Canada's Kurt Browning fell on his triple Axel in his short program at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, and the reigning world champion wound up sixth.
Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon — who coach Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — had to withdraw from the 2006 Olympics after Dubreuil fell out of their final lift in the original dance program, suffering a deep bone bruise in her hip. Japan's Midori Ito famously fell into a camera pit during the 1991 world championships, but bounced back out to finish her program, eventually finishing fourth.
Google "figure skating falls" and there are dozens of compilations, and some — like the horrific crash Tatiana Totmianina suffered when Russian pairs partner Maxim Marinin dropped her face-first at Skate America in 2004 — are tough to watch.
"A lift, the guy needs to know how to save it, that's Pairs 101," said Dylan Moscovitch, who narrowly missed qualifying for Pyeongchang with pairs partner Lubov Ilyushechkina. "You have to be aware of where your emergency exits are, how to bring the lift down if it's starting to feel off, what to do to stop her from meeting the ice face-first. Worst-case scenario we're taught to jump underneath. As a pairs guy, that's kind of your job. Protect your partner at all costs. Precious cargo."
It's understandable that falls happen. Travelling at up to 32 kilometres an hour, balancing on what amounts to Ginsu knives on their feet, skaters can cover over four metres on a quadruple jump, in less than a second, landing with the force seven times their body weight,
The worst falls, skaters say, are the unexpected ones. Moir's embarrassing backwards fall when he clipped Virtue's blade at the 2011 Grand Prix Final was the subject of a comical Belairdirect TV commercial.
"We know how to brace ourselves, so that when we fall on a jump, it's OK," Osmond said. "It's the freak falls that hurt the most. The ones when you're doing choreography and you just hit your toe pick and . . . face on the ice. Hopefully those ones are never done in competition, because that's just really embarrassing. But I've done that, I'm not going to lie."