On Expanding Figure Skating’s Fan Base
November 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
The sport of figure skating does a terrible job at trying to expand its fan base. Before we try to fix that, let’s see why it’s hard for the average fan to be drawn into figure skating.
Jargon – Sports Vocabulary
- Basketball has free throws, two-point shots, and three-point shots. The sport has five positions: (1) point guard, (2) shooting guard, (3) small forward, (4) power forward, and (5) center.
- Baseball has runs or points. They successfully get those runs by taking a walk, hitting a single, double, triple or home run. There are 9 fielding positions where the players try to stop the opposition from scoring points in the game: (1) pitcher, (2) catcher, (3) first baseman, (4) second baseman, (5) third baseman, (6) shortstop, (7) left fielder, (8) center fielder, and (9) right fielder. An additional position, the designated hitter makes only offensive contributions for their team.
- Hockey? The bladed brethren of figure skaters score “goals”. They have six positions: center, left wing, right wing, left defenseman, right defenseman, goalkeeper.
What do figure skaters do, besides landing all 4.5 revolutions in a triple axel?
What, they do more than just triple axels?
Axels are just one of many jumps and many things skaters can and must do in competition:
Jumps like the salchow, the toe loop, the loop, the flip (no, not a somersault), the lutz, and the famed axel. Here’s a slow motion video of two skaters doing all single jumps.
Spins like the layback (where you lean back), the camel (one leg parallel to the ice, one perpendicular), and the sit spin (where you sit). Competitions at the highest level also require skaters to be able to spin in the same direction on EITHER foot, doing back spin variations of the layback, camel, and sit. Here is a video of a girl who spins counter-clockwise on her left side, changing the feet twice between the second and third variation of the spin and between the third and last variation.
As for footwork that doesn’t include any jumps or spins, it incorporates “moves in the field” instead. They incorporate things like 3 turns, bracket turns, choctaw turns, counter turns, crossovers, mohawk turns, rocker turns, and twizzles.
When everything from the jumps, spins and footwork are combined with difficult transitions, then what you have is an aesthetically-pleasing performance on par with a basketball player balletically taking it to the hoop, a baseball player patrolling the field on defense, and a hockey player controlling the puck and getting ready to score a goal.
Post-Michelle Kwan Era
When I mention some of the biggest names in sports like LeBron James, Mariano Rivera and Sidney Crosby, they elicit at the very least a “Hey! I’ve heard of that name before” response. To fans who have been following these athletes’ for the duration of their professional careers, there’s a fiery love/hate relationship with no room in between.
These elite athletes communicate through their skills, knowing whatever the opponent does, they cannot stop the elite athletes from dominating. It’s through those same skills that inspire fans around the world to see their athletes on and off their arenas. These elite athletes make it seem like anything is possible.
Who can do that as an American figure skater?
There’s been a noticeable power void that Michelle Kwan left when she finished her final international competition in 2005. The 9-time national champion, who couldn’t quite put it together at the Olympics still left a lasting impression on the imagination of every fan. With her successful triple jumps and gracefulness during her signature spiral sequence, Kwan led the way for the American ladies well into the 2000s.
The American team currently doesn’t have a female skater that can confidently dominate the rest of the field like Michelle Kwan once did but Ashley Wagner will certainly do her best. Lurking behind Wagner are Gracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu. On the men’s side, you have defending Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, though the world worries that he’ll return from injury at full strength to defend his title. If he cannot skate in the Olympics, the skaters who have looked good after this year’s international competitions are Jason Brown and Adam Rippon.
The skaters to also keep note of are Charlie White and Meryl Davis. Skating together since they were 10 years old, they are currently the top-ranked American ice dancers and 2nd ranked team in the world. If anyone is capable of setting the bar high for a discipline of figure skating, overcome their Canadian archnemeses Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and dominate the rest of the field, it’ll be White and Davis. Keep an eye out for them in February.
For a sport where skaters train daily (sometimes fit in school between morning and afternoon workouts) and pick about 3-4 competitions to skate in, figure skating competitions happen fairly regularly. The season goes from September to March, from qualifiers to World Championships and the Olympics if it’s an Olympic year.
If you have made your country’s figure skating team, then your qualifiers will take you from Skate America in the US, Skate Canada in … Canada, and Cup of China in Beijing to the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, and Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. If you are relatively unknown in the US, then you go through regional qualifiers in the Pacific, Midwest or Eastern regionals, national semifinals, then have your breakout moment on the national stage.
Attending these competitions or watching them on TV isn’t as easy as catching Sunday Night Football on NBC or the NBA Finals on ABC. NBC covers some important figure skating competitions but if you don’t live in Europe and get the EuroSports Live channel, you must rely on an annual subscription to IceNetwork/MLB Advanced Media to keep updated with your favorite skaters.
However, if you don’t mind watching things after they happen, people post clips of skaters’ performances on YouTube so you don’t have to pay the 50 dollar fee for IceNetwork or much more to attend the competitions in person. It’s just a matter of checking to see if your favorite skater(s) participated in a competition or not.
It’s a steep learning curve for you and I in order to fully enjoy figure skating but I think we can make this work. We’ll collaborate with Kenny Loggins and navigate our way out of the danger zone. Hold my hand.
P.S.: What the hell is a triple flip?