Finer points of figure skating

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

The skaters will be rolling into Calgary in the next week in advance of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships at the Saddledome, March 20-26.

The Sun called upon national-team member Amanda Billings and her coach Sharon Lariviere, both of the Calalta Figure Skating Club, to help readers brush up on the sport's terminologies.

So settle in and learn the finer points of the Salchow, lutz and toe-loop.

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It isn't easy to pick out which jump is which. Whether it's a Lutz, a Salchow, an Axel, a flip, a toe or a loop, it all depends on the takeoff and even the keenest eye has to pay attention.

"My mom's been watching as long as I've been skating," says Amanda Billings, CalAlta's premier figure skater.

"She can't tell. But fans can see the quality of a jump."

Billings, her coach Sharon Lariviere boasts, can land all the triple jumps, finally completing a triple flip earlier this season, before she was injured during the warmup for an exhibition show in St. Catharines, Ont.

Lariviere says fans can watch for certain factors when they're critiquing a jump.

"It's how fast the skater is rotating, how high he gets in the jump and how far he travels horizontally," she said.

"A great jump just sits still. Evgeni Plushenko of Russia is an example of that.

"He's a wonderful jumper."

The takeoffs for each jump include:

n Axel -- From the forward outside edge, landing on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.

n Salchow -- From the back inside edge, landing on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.

n Lutz -- From the back outside edge with toe-pick assistance, landing on back outside edge of the opposite foot.

n Toe loop -- From the back outside edge with toe-pick assistance, landing on the back outside edge of the takeoff foot.

n Loop -- From the back outside edge, landing on the back outside edge of the takeoff foot.

n Flip -- From the back inside edge, with toe-pick assistance, landing on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.

Under International Skating Union rules, women must attempt at least a double Axel in the short program, plus any other triple. Men must attempt a double or triple Axel and at least one other triple or quadruple.

In the long program, women are limited to seven jump elements, including an Axel and combination, and men are limited to eight jump elements.

"We're all still going to be looking for a quad from the men," said Lariviere.

But spins can be equally as exciting, she said.

The short program has to contain one flying spin and one combination spin. Long programs are limited to no more than four spin elements, including a combination, a flying spin and a spin of only one position.

"You have to have very good balance in your spins," says Billings. "Some kids don't have it and they find spins really hard. It does take a lot of practice."

Lariviere says to watch for changes of position, the axis of the spin and its speed.

Men are most likely to a camel spin, in which the skater's body is horizontal to the ice, while the layback spin is most popular with the women.

The Bielmann spin, in which the skater lifts her free leg above her head and grabs onto her skate blade, has become quite the trend among female skaters.

However, Lariviere cautions against the move.

"Amanda doesn't do it, although she does work on it," Lariviere says. "It does the back in and it's not worth it ... The body's not meant to go that way. Coaches need to be wary of teaching it to little children."

American Sasha Cohen has the best Bielmann spin in the business, the coach says, but Lariviere would rather her students work on gaining marks for changing edge and positions, which can increase a spin's difficulty.

The third main element of a skating program is footwork. For women, it's a spiral sequence and, for men, it's a step sequence. Both genders must use the full length of the ice surface.

"The spiral has to be held for three seconds and the skater gets deductions if she doesn't hold it for three or more seconds," says Lariviere. "Sasha's back outside edge with the leg way up is probably the best."

The men's footwork is usually about showmanship more than anything, she adds.

"And Plushenko is the best," she says. "But he has it all. He's just untouchable. So well-trained, like a machine."

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OUR SKATER

AMANDA BILLINGS

AGE: 19

CLUB: CalAlta

EXPERIENCE: Three years on national junior team, one year on national senior team.

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OUR GURU

SHARON LARIVIERE

CLUB: CalAlta

EXPERIENCE: Has been coaching for "at least"

48 years in such locations as Calgary, Brandon, Chicago, Kuwait, China and Russia


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