Have you ever watched figure skating on the Olympics and wondered how the heck Dick Button or Peggy Flemming can recognize what all these moves are that the skaters are doing? Don't they all look the same? To the untrained eye and at real speed, yes! - but at least if you tape things and play them back in slow motion later on you can see exactly what the differences are between all of these jumps.

Before explaining all of the different jumps, a brief note about edges. When a skater skates on one foot, and leans such that they are skating in a circle / curve, they are said to be skating on an edge. If the skater is skating such that the skate not on the ice is on the outside of the circle, they are said to be skating on an outside edge. Likewise, if the skate not on the ice is on the inside of the circle, they are said to be skating on an inside edge. If the skater is skating an outside edge on their left foot, this is known as a left outside edge, and if they are skating an inside edge on their right foot, this is known as a right inside edge. I could continue but you get the drift. Note also that edges can be skated forwards or backwards.

Also, another term that is important for understanding jumps is free leg. When a skater is skating on one leg, the other leg that is not on the ice is known as the free leg.

Finally, note that each jump has several characteristics that distinguish it from the others: Does the skater take off while skating forwards or backwards? Does the skater take off from the edge of a skate, or use the toe pick of one of the skates to vault his/herself into the air? Does the skater take off from an inside or outside edge? Does the skater land on the takeoff foot, or the other foot? And, finally, does the skater land on an inside or outside edge? As you can see, there are a lot (2^5 = 32) possibilities, but most of these are not used - in fact most do not have names as they are very difficult or close to impossible to perform.

Here then are the main jumps normally performed in Olympic level competition, and how to recognize them. Note that each jump can be performed two ways (clockwise or counter-clockwise), depending if the skater naturally lands on his/her left or right foot.

  • Axel: This is the only jump where the skater takes off going forward, so its easy to recognize. Its also considered to be the most difficult of the jumps that are typically performed in competition. Starting on a forward outside edge, the skater propels him/herself into the air by swinging the free leg forward, rotates one and a half times, and lands backwards on an outside edge on what was the free leg at the beginning of the jump. A double axel is the same as above, but the skater rotates two and a half times in the air, and a triple axel includes three and a half rotations.
  • Salcow: An edge jump (meaning that the skater takes off from the edge of a skate, as opposed to a toe jump where the toe-pick of one skate is used to propel themselves into the air). The skater starts by skating backwards on an inside edge, takes off from this edge and then lands on an outside edge of what was the free leg at the beginning of the jump. A double Salcow consists of two revolutions in the air, and a triple Salcow consists of three.
  • Flip: A toe jump, similar to the Salcow. Like the Salcow, the skater begins by skating backwards on an inside edge. Rather than taking off from this edge, however, the skater propels him/herself into the air using the toe pick of the free leg.
  • Lutz: Like the flip jump, but more difficult. Rather than beginning on a backwards inside edge, the skater will begin on a backwards outside edge. This is an "against the grain" jump - the skater starts by turning clockwise on his/her outside edge, but in the air spins counter-clockwise (or vice-versa, depending on which foot the skater will land on). This jump is also easy to recognize under most circumstances because the skater will often enter the jump with an extended glide on the backwards outside edge to demonstrate to the judges that they are skating on the outside edge and not the inside edge, thus performing the more difficult Lutz jump rather than the flip jump.
  • Loop:In the loop jump, the skater begins by skating backwards on an outside edge, and propels him/herself into the air from this same edge, rotates once in the air, and then lands on an outside edge of the same foot.
  • Toe Loop: Like the loop jump, the skater begins by skating on a back outside edge, and will land on the back outside edge of this same foot. To take off, the skater propels him/herself into the air by using the toe pick of the free leg.
It is interesting to note that any of the jumps listed above can be used as the first jump of a jump combination, but generally speaking only the loop and toe loop jumps can be used in combination after the first jump - this is because all of the jumps land on the back outside edge and the loop and toe loop jumps are the only jumps that also take off from this edge. In my opinion, the loop jump is visually very impressive when used as the second jump of a jump combination, as the skater lands on one foot and immediately jumps back into the air, all without the free leg ever touching the ice.

Another jump used in Olympic competition, is the Split Jump - identicle to a flip jump except that the skater spreads his or her legs apart - some very good (and flexible) skaters can even touch their hands to the tips of the skates at the apex of the jump. Since a double split jump is insanely difficult due to physics (think moment of intertia when the skater is spinning with two heavy skates at the outside of the circle), but anything less than a double jump is not a very difficult element, the split jump is used more for artistry than to display technical skill.

There are also a number of jumps that are typically not used at the Olympic level:

  • Waltz Jump: Identicle to the Axel jump, but consists of only one-half rotation in the air, vs. one and a half rotations in the Axel jump. Too simple for Olympic competition.
  • Wally: An "against the grain" jump (see Lutz jump above), the skater begins on a back inside edge, takes off from this edge and lands on a back outside edge on the same foot. Very difficult to do a double or triple of this jump.
  • Toe Wally: Another "against the grain" jump, the skater starts off on a back inside edge, uses the toe pick of the free leg to propel themsef into the air, and lands on the outside edge of the original leg. Another jump that is extremily difficult to perform as a double or tripple.
  • Half-Loop: The name of this jump is misleading, as it entails a full revolution in the air. Its rarely used in competition and I don't think that it is ever attempted as a double or a triple (what would one say, a "double half-loop"?). This is the only major jump that does not land on a back outside edge. Rather, the skater starts from a back outside edge, jumps off of this edge and lands on the inside edge of what was the free leg at the start of the jump. The primary use of the Half-Loop jump is in a jump combination. As noted above, usually only the Toe Loop and Loop jumps can be the second jump of a combination, as every other jump except the half loop lands on the same edge and foot that these two jumps take off from. By using a half-loop (usually as the middle jump of a three jump combination), the skater can use a Salcow or a Flip Jump as the next jump in the combination. Tara Lipinski did this at the 1998 Olympics.

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