Sunday, January 19, 2003

Just call him Ryan Boitano

He'd better speak Italian, 'cause this guy's going to Torino!

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ann Spore, a member of the Figure Skating Club of Cincinnati helps Enquirer reporter Ryan Ernst learn how to skate.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
I recently read that figure skating is the third most popular spectator sport in the United States, behind football and baseball.

Now that's not saying much, considering the state of the NBA. But to place above hockey, boxing and college sports ... well, more than just housewives have to be watching this stuff.

And since the U.S. Championships are this weekend, I figured I'd use Part 3 of my winter recreation series to see what all the fuss is about.

My stage: SportsPlus in Evendale.

My instructors: Ann Spore and Jeff Pruivett of the Figure Skating Club of Cincinnati.

My skill level: Low, very low. Boxer-on-his-fourth-comeback low.

My goal: To walk, not limp, away from the rink with my health and at least half my ego intact.

Once they helped me lace up my skates and we were on the ice, Jeff and Ann insisted I learn how to fall. I thought of this two ways: 1) They were teaching me how to fall to avoid injury; 2) they were expecting me to fall ... a lot. Next, they showed me how to get up.

So basically, 10 minutes into our hour-long session, I had learned how to tie my shoes, fall down and get up. I felt all the accomplishment of a very slow 6-year-old.

Then we began to skate, and my kindergarten confidence was shot.

My ankles wobbled and my arms flailed wildly while I struggled for balance. I had the grace of a Chris Farley full-body tantrum. Ann told me to bend my knees and try to glide. The result ...

"I am a figure skating god," I thought. "They will name a trick after me by the time I leave this rink."

Once again, the confidence was short-lived, which I realized when we began work on what Ann and Jeff called the "swizzle."

"Mmmmmm, Twizzler," I thought.

Not quite. A Twizzler is fruity goodness in licorice form. A swizzle is a form of propulsion on ice skates, during which the skater forces his blades out before pulling them back together.

It can be done both frontward and backward, by most. This guy, however, would rather do it forward, with a lot of cheating involved.

We moved on to a two-foot turn, a transition from forward skating to backward skating. Many skaters use this transition when heading into a trick.

I, however, had no use for tricks or skating backward, so I ignored this maneuver.

Undeterred, my instructors insisted they saw improvement in my skating, which would only get better.

That's kind of like saying a fourth Godfather would improve upon where III left off.

Next, I learned how to skate on one foot. Then I skated in a circle on both the inside and outside of my blade.

Forty minutes in, I was beginning to tire. I like to think of myself as more of a short-program skater.

I'm not exactly sure what the difference is between the short and long programs in figure skating. But I do know this: I want no part of the long program. In skating, I'd be the equivalent of a closer in baseball. In and out.

I could tell, however, that Ann and Jeff appreciate the beauty of the sport. Part of that beauty comes in the jumps, which they were determined to teach me.

"OK," I thought. "What do they have in store for me? Triple salchow? A lutz or two? Some toe loops?"

"Bunny hop," Ann said.

Was she kidding? There were people watching - girls even. And she wanted me to do something called a "bunny hop"? This was going to be adorable.

Basically, a bunny hop is using your toe to propel into a little, well, a little hop. Four inches, maybe 5, separated me from the ice. And I don't mean to brag, but I absolutely nailed it. I had been figure skating less than an hour and I already had a patented move. The bunny hop is now "The Ryan."

I could already hear the announcers at the 2006 Winter Games.

"And it looks like he's ... yes, he's setting up for a Ryan," they'd say in hushed voices. "He's going to need to pick up some speed if he wants to ... Yes! He really drilled that one! A perfect Ryan. Tens all around, even from the Russian judge."

But I digress. I don't need a figure skating move named after me. All I needed going into my lesson was a story. That, I got. But I also got a newfound respect for a sport that was once foreign to me. And who knows what the future will hold for me in figure skating. I mean, c'mon, a one-hour lesson got me thinking about 2006 in Torino, Italy.

But I'm not getting in a sequin jumpsuit for anyone. If it costs me Olympic glory, so be it.

All spins and jumps are not created equal

So what is the difference between a toeloop and a lutz? Why is one jump a triple and the other a double? Don't they all look the same? Isn't a spin just a spin?

Not quite.

The Jumps

Axel: One and a half rotations in the air when the skater takes off from the outside edge of the left foot (assuming the skater rotates counter-clockwise, which 90 percent of all skaters do), and lands on the outside edge of the right foot. Double and triple axels involve 21/2 and 31/2 turns, respectively. It's the only jump that starts with the skater going forward and ends with the skater facing the opposite direction.

Loop: A full rotation off the outside edge of the right foot, landing on the outside edge of the right foot. It's the only jump landed on the inside edge of the left foot.

Lutz: A full rotation off the outside edge of the left foot and landed on the outside edge of the right foot, done after vaulting off the toe.

Salchow: A full rotation off the inside edge of the left foot and landed on the outside ege of the right foot.

There are also a variety of spins used in figure skating. They are judged on speed, centering (spinning on the same point on the ice) and control.

The Spins

Scratch spin: This trick is often used at the end of a skater's program because of its velocity. The skater spins with his or her legs crossed while standing straight up.

Camel spin: This spin is done with one skate on the ice and the other leg extended straight out, parrallel to the ice.

Sit spin: The skater bends one leg while extending the other in this spin, almost sitting on the ice.


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Just call him Ryan Boitano