There are primarily six different jumps that figure skaters perform. The jumps vary based on edge vs toe (do you take off on an edge, or stick your toe pick in and vault into the air), entry edge (inside or outside, and even toe jumps have this characteristic, foot (inside or outside of the circle, we can’t say left or right because different skaters will jump different directions), and direction of travel (forward (axel only) or backward (everything else)). There are a couple other jumps but they tend to be used as footwork or choreographic elements rather than jumps due to the difficulty or number of rotations. In the Olympics we’ll see a lot of triples and quads, with a few intentional doubles thrown in, and some unintentional doubles and even singles when a skater messes up.
Getting into the air requires a skater to jump up which makes sense, but time in the air is also affected by how a skater lands. Landing on a bent ankle/knee/hip actually delays the landing a little bit. Enough to potentially get another 10 – 20 degrees of rotation (which could mean the difference between a jump counting as a quad or a triple).
Rotating depends on the velocity of rotation around the vertical axis (think of a straight line going the length of the skaters body) and inertia (reduced when a skater pulls their arms and legs in close to their body).
So what makes Olympians special? Well, it turns out that a skater tends to jump into the air with the same vertical (up/down) velocity regardless of how many rotations they are planning on doing. In other words, when a skater who can do triple axels jumps into the air to do a single axel they jump at the same velocity as they would for the triple. Rotational velocity, not surprisingly, does increase with greater numbers of rotations.
There is a whole lot more that goes into the jumps. But we’ll save that for another post.
King, D.L. (2005). Performing triple and quadruple figure skating jumps: Implications for training. Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 30(6): 743-753.
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