Pairs skating is an exciting discipline with its tall lifts, huge tricks and blazing chemistry between partners. In terms of the skating, there are a lot of elements in pairs skating that we don’t see anywhere else. For this Skating 101 post, we’ll be talking about these moves that take our breath away.
In my Skating 101 post on jumps, I featured a video that helped viewers figure out how to tell all the jumps apart. What I might not have mentioned is that in figure skating, partners are required to do side by side jumps in which partners have to jump, as you guessed it, side by side. Partners are expected to be in perfect unison throughout the entire jump. In pairs skating, we also see throw jumps (also mentioned in the Skating 101 jump post) where the man assists the lady in a jump by throwing her in the air. The lady is expected to land the jump smoothly despite being thrown a pretty big distance off the ice. There’s nothing else I can really say about this but here is a great interactive page on throw jumps by ESPN featuring Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir.
In my Skating 101 spins post, I talked about Side by Side Spins and Pairs Spins already so check out the post (links at the end of this post) in case you don’t remember what they are.
Now, onto some new elements only seen in pairs skating!
A death spiral is when the man swings his partner in a circle while acting as a pivot. Death spirals differ by their entries (whether the lady is facing forward or backwards) and the edges (inside or outside). The video above shows the four different types of death spiral. Look carefully at whether the lady is rotating forward or backwards and the edge of her skate that’s on the ice.
In a death spiral, the team should enter smoothly into their respective positions and not lose speed throughout the entire element.
In both pairs and ice dancing, there are lifts but the lifts of each discipline differ on one fundamental aspect: pairs lifts are usually done overhead while it is illegal to do overhead lifts in ice dance. There are many different positions for pairs lifts as well as their own variations. Here is a link to a page describing the various different lift positions in pairs skating.
Ideally, lifts should be done effortlessly and any transitions between positions should be done smoothly. The man should not lose speed as he glides on the ice with his partner. At the same time, partners can make the lift even more difficult by having many changes of positions or a complicated entry or exit from the lift.
The twist lift is a very difficult lift in which the man throws his partner up in the air in a horizontal position. The lady then does a specific number of rotations in the air before she is caught by her partner, still up in the air. Often, we hear announcers say that such team has done a triple twist, which means that the lady rotated three times in the air. Triple twists are standard in the upper echelons of pairs skating nowadays though some young skaters (especially the Chinese), are attempting quadruple twists. Ideally, twists should be high and the rotations should be fully completed before the lady comes back to her partner. All of this must be done while looking effortless. Pairs can make the twist even more difficult by having the lady put her arm over her head.
For the science or physics of figure skating and twists, here is a video. Twists are mentioned at the very end of the short video. Who knew that all that work on parabolas in calculus class could apply to figure skating?
Pairs Spiral Sequence
In ladies skating, one of the most iconic elements is the spiral where the lady glides on one foot with her free leg above waist level. (Michelle Kwan’s arabesque spiral always makes me a little teary these days.) In pairs, both partners must be in spiral positions, though the positions need not to be the same. Often, partners are attached to each other while doing the spiral sequence.
This isn’t a pairs element but rather, it’s a name for a special kind of pairs team. Similar to left and right-handedness, some skaters rotate clockwise while others rotate counter-clockwise in their spins and jumps. (Most skaters rotate counter-clockwise.) For most pairs teams, partners rotate in the same direction but for some teams, like Kristi Yamaguchi before she became a singles skater and Rudy Galindo, partners rotate in opposite directions. As a result, the goal for mirror pairs is to do their jumping and spinning elements in unison to look like mirror images of one another.
If you have any other questions or comments about pairs skating, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you! As well, feel free to suggest any future topics for Skating 101!
~The Rinkside Cafe
Other Skating 101 Posts:
History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System
The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System
Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics
Figure Skating Jumps
Figure Skating Spins
Pairs Skating Elements