A figure skater’s guide to the Winter Olympics

It’s 2018. You know what that means: The Winter Olympics are coming again and with it, our favorite sport of the season—figure skating.

Sammie ’20 poses in the ice rink. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Slawter.

As a figure skater, I’m always excited when the Winter Olympics come around. I follow the sport through the entire quad, that’s fan-speak for the four-year cycle between each Olympics, and I love finally getting to talk about figure skating with my classmates when they tune in to watch the Olympics.

However, skating isn’t just what you see on TV. Here are a few interesting facts you might not know about what goes on behind the scenes.

Skaters are strapped into a harness when learning new jumps. A harness is a pulley that helps the skater jump higher. Once skaters are more comfortable with a jump, they might move to a pole harness, where the skater is lifted into the air using a pole instead of a pulley with the help of coaches trained specifically to use the pole harness. Skaters will only attempt jumps without a harness once they can generate enough height on their own.

Skaters wear pads made of foam or gel when jumping. They’re called “butt-pads” and are inserted into the skater’s pants to prevent tailbone and hip bruising when the skater inevitably falls. A few skaters use padded shorts, which are stretchy shorts that have foam padding sewn into them. Padded shorts are a recent invention that are becoming more popular than traditional butt pads.

Skates are often held together with duct tape. When you watch the Olympics, look out for white duct tape (or black for men) on the competitors’ skates. When the leather on skating boots starts to break down, many skaters will wrap duct tape around their skates to provide extra ankle support. The force on a skater’s ankle after landing a jump can be up to 14 times their body weight!

Almost all skaters practice before school. Once skaters have mastered their single jumps (usually by the age of eight or nine years old), they are expected to start attending early-morning practice sessions, some beginning as early as 5:00 AM. Once they reach the juvenile or intermediate level (usually around 11 or 12 years old), most will have to make a choice between skating and school. Most skaters who compete nationally are homeschooled, including 2018 Olympians Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou, who both attend an online schooling program.

Hopefully this has provided some insight into what it takes to be a figure skater, and the reasons I prefer to watch the Olympics rather than participate in it.

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