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Ice skating: art and speed

On the ice you can dance, run fast and chase "flying discs”. Ice skating is presented in many forms  in the language of the descendants of the Inuit - the ancient people of Greenland - there are seventy-two different ways of indicating the snow/ice concept.

Since ancient times, man has been taming this changeable material for survival but also for pleasure: almost all winter sports have ancient origins and ice skating is no exception.

Ice skating is believed to have originated around 3000 BC in Scandinavian countries and in the far north-east of Europe with skates and blades of ox bone or a particular breed of horses. The skates were an effective means of transport on the frozen surfaces of lakes and rivers, but compared to today's gear they were not so efficient that the skater helped with a stick to boost and maintain balance.

From the Scandinavian countries, this practice landed in Central Europe, passing above all by the Netherlands, which made it a real national sport. The work "Vita alme virginis Lijdwine" by Johannem Brugman testifies to this, which narrates the life of St. Liduina of Schiedam paralyzed due to a fall on the skates and for this reason elected as patron saint of skaters.
In the seventeenth century, it was Prince James, son of the English king Charles I who was in exile in the Netherlands after the "fall" of the Father, who became passionate about skating and, when his brother Charles II managed to restore the monarchy by returning home, he also imported the skates into the United Kingdom. And from there, of course, all over the world, including Russia, Japan, China and Korea.

Figure skating


It is a winter sport in which athletes, equipped with skates, perform on the ice exercises consisting of figures, steps, spins and jumps, on a musical basis. It was the first winter sport included in the Olympic Games in 1908. Also called figure skating, an expression that has become established in the Italian language with the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, replacing the term "artistic skating", previously used for both ice and rollers. The expression derives from English "figure skating". In fact, the English origin is the development, from the beginning of 1800, of the basic steps of skating, the execution of which leaves a figure imprinted on the ice, in fact, drawn of the blade that runs over it.

The name "artistic skating" is of French origin (patinage artistique). Diffused in all languages of Latin root including Italian, it also indicates all the specialties of skating and can refer to both ice skating and roller skating. Therefore, in Italian - the only Latin language that contemplates two different terms - the two terms "artistic skating" and "figure skating" coexist, they appear to be interchangeable, and both indicate all the specialties on ice: free, couple and dance.
The same specialities exist in artistic roller skating. For the sake of completeness, additional specialities developed over the last decades should be added - also here for both ice skating and roller skating - such as synchronized or precision skating,"solo dance" (individual dance), show groups (show skating).


Figure skating includes four different Olympic disciplines:

  • individual male
  • individual female
  • in pairs
  • Ice dance (only couples)

there is also synchronized skating  however it is not yet recognized as an Olympic discipline.
The first world championship of figure skating took place in 1896, limited to  male individuals. Females were included  in 1906 and the artistic couple in 1908. Ice dance is a more recent speciality, which was first played at the World Cup in 1952.
Figure skating was included in the Olympic program even before the birth of the Winter Olympic Games: in fact, it was present at the Summer Olympic Games in London 1908 and Antwerp 1920. The three artistic rehearsals have been part of the Winter Olympic programme since the 1924 Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix.

Ice dance was added to the 1976 Innsbruck Games. Synchronised skating has not yet been included in the programme of the Winter Olympic Games, but in January 2007 it was admitted for the first time to the Universiade in Turin, the first step towards future recognition as an Olympic speciality. International competitive activity is organised by the International Skating Union (ISU).

The race

The jury examines the performance on the basis of various technical and artistic parameters. The highest score in both is 6.0. In addition, the athletes competing must comply with a general and a specific regulation for each category. The ice skating rink must have certain parameters such as dimensions, safety measures, lights and audio equipment. The minimum dimensions are set at twenty metres per forty metres and must be bounded on the sides so that athletes can compete safely.

Each athlete is assigned the category according to the year of birth, in turn the categories are divided into beginners and professionals. Each competition is divided into two phases indicated as a short programme and long or free programme.

Short program
The first, as the name suggests, is the shortest programme of the two competitions. According to International Skating Union rules, the maximum duration of the short program is two minutes and 50 seconds. In this period of time the athlete must perform seven mandatory elements (eight in pairs) and if their execution is not correct the skater incurs a penalty.

Some of the mandatory "figures" include: a double or triple axel, a jump in combination (a double and a triple jump, two triple jumps, or a quadruple and a double or triple jump), a skipped spinning top. For pair skating: a lifting with a specific grip, which changes from year to year, a double or triple twist, a spiral of death (death spiral) with a specific angle that varies from year to year. The 24 athletes with the best score in the short program continue with the long program.

Long program
Also called free program, it is the second of the two phases from which the figure skating competitions are composed, both for individuals and couples. The free program is the longest of the two, typically lasts 4 minutes for women and 4 minutes and 30 seconds for men and couples, but can be allowed 10 seconds more or less where necessary.The duration of the programs is measured by calculating that the program starts when the skater starts to skate, and ends when you have stopped completely, and not when the music starts or ends. If an athlete does not finish the program within the allowed time limits, this will cost him a deduction in the score.

Over the years, the free program has become increasingly codified and forced into well-defined rules. The current regulation provides a list of the elements that need to be included in your programme in order to get the most points. The term "free program, with the new ISU rating system, is no longer free: in fact, skaters have to enter the exact number of allowed elements in their programs.
In addition, account should be taken of the fact that the elements executed in the second half of the programme are rated at 10% more than their baseline score, as it is considered more difficult to perform a figure towards the end of the programme than at the beginning, when the athlete is less fatigued. All other items, such as step sequences or spinning tops, do not receive any bonuses.

Figure skating jumps

Jumps are one of the fundamental elements of this sport, those that make it so spectacular and that differentiate it from ice dance. The jumps bear strange names for non-professionals, names that sometimes evoke famous skaters of the past.
The main leaps are six: Rittberger, Axel, Salchow, Toe Loop, Flip and Lutz. All these jumps are divided into two main categories, the jumps starting from the right or left blade thread (Rittberger, Axel and Salchow) and the headed jumps (Toe Loop, Flip and Lutz), in which the leaping leg points the blade's tooth into the ice to help in the momentum.

All jumps are made backwards from the direction in which you pad and the landing takes place in the same way. The only exception is the Axel jump, which is performed forward, although the landing is still backwards. One aspect to take into account is the direction of rotation: the right skaters rotate counterclockwise, and will therefore land on the right foot, while the left-handed athletes will land clockwise, ending the jump on a left outer thread back. The position in the air is also identical for all jumps: the athlete keeps his left leg above the right and arms collected at the height of the rib (counterclockwise direction of rotation). This is the best position to achieve balance and speed of rotation, although the position of the arms may vary in different schools.

Often, during the comments of the skating races, you often hear it say "the jump is not clean". This means that the jump is not completely rotated. To better understand what it means to have a watch in front of us: ideally the landing of a jump is at 12 o' clock or at least 5 minutes later. Depending on the rotation, jumps are defined as simple, double or triple. Here again, the Axel is an exception because it is run forward and consists of half an extra rotation. This is how we talk about Axel simple in the case of one and a half rotations, double Axel in the case of two and a half rotations and triple Axel in the case of three and a half rotations. The highest level jumps are obviously those consisting of multiple rotations, in this case the triple ones. The world's highest male athletes can even perform one or two quadruple jumps.

Ice dancing

Since 1952, the International Skating Union has included this discipline in the official programme of the World Championships for figure skating and in 1976 at the Innsbruck Winter Olympic Games it became an Olympic sport. Dance on ice comes from the sporting dance practiced in the dance halls. Fundamental components of the discipline are the couple, composed of a man and a woman, music, rhythm and performance.

Even in ice dance, the competitions are held on two rehearsals: the short program and the free program. In the first test, skaters must perform a compulsory part decided by ISU before the start of the season. Also in the second test, skaters have to follow guidelines, for example the execution of steps, twists and lifts, but the choreography and the pleasure of dance is more emphasized. It is the less acrobatic specialty of artistic skating, as it is not allowed to lift the woman beyond the line of the shoulders of the man, nor jumps.
The dancers must present a programme before each competition, with which levels of difficulty are associated; this programme is composed of several dances: the obligatory ones decided by the international federation in the technical programme drawn up for each sporting season, other original and free ones which, however, must have some technical elements.

After the performance, the dances are evaluated by the judges who assign a score based on three different components:"Skating skills", Performance and execution, Timing and interpretation of the music. Skating skills mainly concern the quality of skating, gliding, speed and bending of knees and ankle; Performance and execution concerns the quality of positions, precision of movement, posture and flexibility; Timing and interpretation of the music refers to the athlete's musical sense, i. e. the ability to move in accordance with the rhythm and character of the music and the interpretation of the musical piece.

Speed skating

The Clap skate (from Dutch klapschaats) unlike traditional skates, where the blade is fixed to the shoe, have the blade attached only by means of a hinge on the front of the sole. Today, all high-level skaters use them.
In speed skating, athletes must travel a certain distance on the ice in the shortest possible time. Speed skating has its origins in the Netherlands and is featured in the programme of the Winter Olympic Games. The sport was revolutionized in the 1990s, with the introduction of clap skate which can reduce lap times by seconds. The International Skating Union has been organising the world championship of speed skating since 1893.

Speed specialties

Official competitions are held at distances of 500,1000,1500,1500,5000 and 10,000 m for men; for women the distances are substantially the same with the exception of the 5000 that become 3000 and the distance of 10,000 m is reduced to 5000 m. Team pursuit is also planned, both male and female. In this type of race, each team is made up of three athletes who compete in qualifying races before reaching the final. two other race modes are all-around and sprint. The first groupes four tests in two days: 500,1500,5000 and 10,000 in the male field and 500,1500,3000 and 5000 in the female field. In each test all times are recalculated to 500 m so that, for example, at 1500 m the time is divided by three, 3000 by six and so on. Wins the athlete who realizes the lowest total time. The sprint includes the two fastest races: 500 and 1000 m.

In the Olympics he made his debut also the specialty of the mass start: the race is developed on 16 laps (6400 m) with group start, three intermediate sprints (in the fourth, eighth and twelfth lap) and final sprint. The winner is who scores the most points in the various phases.

The race
Speed skating is currently practised on oval outdoor or indoor skating, often with artificial ice. For the Olympic Games the rules require an oval indoor. 400 m long regulatory track with the two straights measuring 111.98 m in length. The curves have a radius of 25-26 m on the inner lane, and each lane is 4-5 m wide. The finish line is always in the same position, while the position of the starting line varies according to the distance on which the competition takes place. Runways with other lengths, such as 200 or 250 m, are used as training tracks or for local competitions.

In individual races, two competitors compete in two lanes. Skaters wear a band on their arms to identify which lane they left. The colours are white for the inner lane and red for the outer lane. On the straight opposite the finish line, skaters switch lane to cover the same distance at each lap, and those who skate on the outside take precedence. Athletes use skate claps whose sheet is 42 to 46 cm long and 1 mm thick. They also wear special whole suits, including hoods, to reduce air resistance.

The speeds that athletes achieve in the Winter Olympics competitions are much higher than those of athletics or cycling competitions in the Summer Olympics and represent the maximum speeds that can be achieved in a sport without motor propulsion. Think of sledding or skeleton.

Even ice skaters, however, are not joking: in their case the power is given by the strength of the muscles alone. The record? The American Shani Davis established the world record in the 1000-metre race at Salt Lake City in 2009, skating at 54.2 km/h on average. A remarkable speed, if you think that the track forces you to slow down in turns. Usain Bolt in the 100 meters reached the average of 37.57 km/h.

Short Track

In this speed-based speciality, skaters (usually from 3 to 9 depending on the race) skate simultaneously on a short 111.12 m-long indoor run. The short track has been one of the sports of the Winter Olympic Games programme since 1992 and the official distances that run throughout a race are: 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m individual for both women and men; the relay races are run over a distance of 3000 m for women's competitions and 5000 m for men's competitions.

The Short Track is the result of speed skating races with mass start. This type of skating was practiced mainly in the United States and Canada, and was in contrast to the international form, where skaters compete in pairs. In 1967, the International Skating Union (ISU) adopted the short track, although it had to wait until 1976 for the first international events. The world championships of this sport have been held since 1980 in Milan (although previous competitions received this title). In 1992 short track became an Olympic sport in all respects.

Canada has long been the dominant country in this sport, but it is currently very popular in many Asian countries, especially South Korea, the People's Republic of China and Japan. Due to its spectacular character, the short track has gained more popularity than long track speed skating.
Unlike long track skating (apart from the shorter track with tighter curves) there are no lanes, which allows for contact between the athletes. The type of race, similar to that of the short distances of athletics, includes a division of athletes into batteries. The athletes of each drums run the relative distance and the first to cross the finish line (the first 2 in 500 m and 1000 m or the first 3 in 1500 m) go to the next round until the final. Frequent contacts often lead to falls and disqualifications, which can therefore alter the scores obtained.

The story of Australian Steven Bradbury was a perfect illustration of this characteristic: after winning his drums, the quarter-finals came third behind the favourites Apolo Ohno and Marc Gagnon, but the disqualification of the second opens the doors of the semi-finals. In that competition, the various falls and disqualification of another opponent give Bradbury an unexpected pass for the final A that awards the medals. Until the last lap Bradbury was behind the other four skaters but at the last turn the Chinese athlete fell in an attempt to overtake the American who lost his balance and dragged the Canadian and Korean with him. Bradbury thus conquers gold with the time of 1'29"109, the first winter Olympic title for an athlete from the southern hemisphere.

The workout

Ice skating is an aerobic sport, if practiced with low commitment, without great physical effort. Become anaerobic in its competitive component. In speed skating, muscle power in relation to the athlete's body weight is more important. In artistic skating, a good basic technique is required that can be achieved after many years of sacrifice and scrupulous application.

For speed, the preparation follows that of the speed disciplines in athletics. It is essential to improve muscle power, respiratory endurance and elasticity in the trigger to cope with short but intense anaerobic stress. In the artistic field, however, technical training is fundamental, as the athlete must develop a neuromuscular coordination that allows him to perform perfectly the figures. Artistic and expressive skills are obviously important, but training the leg muscles is essential in both disciplines.

The benefits
They are mainly found on the cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular apparatus. Let's see what they are in detail.
It is good for muscles. Skating for a couple of hours a day has beneficial effects on the muscular tone of the legs and arms. This is due to the continuous movement of the legs to move around the track. In the advancement and thrust phase, in particular, it tones the muscles of the buttocks. The arms' muscles also work to maintain a proper balance of the body with respect to the track.
It is good to the heart. For a long time, skating can lower the heart rate, i. e. the number of heartbeats, while at the same time increasing the amount of blood circulating at each contraction of the heart muscle. At low stress intensity, it stimulates the heart's ability to pump blood into vessels and circulatory circulation, spraying the tissues.
Stimulates venous circulation. Accompanied by the work of alternating muscle contraction of arms and legs, the heart contracts as a pump on the peripheral circulation: it stimulates the return of venous blood, avoiding the formation of annoying varicose veins.
Prevents cellulite. The improvement of blood circulation also affects capillary and lymphatic vessels, preventing the formation of cellulite or improving stagnation of liquids in the tissues in predisposed women.
Improves breathing. Both the total and individual respiratory acts, accustoming the body to reducing and cancelling short breaths and fatigue. It also improves respiratory rhythm.
Slimming. The amount of work carried out in this sport helps to burn fat, provided that the right diet is followed from the outset and without excesses.

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