A maneuver in pairs figure skating. The man stays in place, spinning, with one arm outstretched -- he’s the pivot. The woman leans backwards (sometimes forwards) to clasp his outstretched hand and, on one skate, circles around him, gradually spiraling outward so that her head comes closer and closer to the ice.

It’s a very graceful maneuver, but I’m told it’s neither as difficult nor as dangerous as it looks. In fact, it’s required at every level of competition AFAIK, and I don’t recall ever seeing any professionals screw it up. (Contrast with jumps, which even the best of skaters will botch occasionally). Part of its ease comes from the increased strength in female skaters today, which allows them to support their weight in awkward stances.

In international competition, the death spiral was first performed by Suzanne Morrow and Wallace Distelmeyer of Canada, at the 1948 world championship in Davos, Switzerland. Others had done a similar maneuver but without the “death” part -- i.e. the woman’s head didn’t come so close to the ice.

Now, if you want a real death move ... pairs skaters Jenni Meno and Todd Sand do this trademark crowd-pleaser: She’s on his shoulders, he grabs her by the ankles, he throws her to the ice. Her head comes within inches of the surface before swinging up in a dramatic, badass arc; if she’s wearing a pony tail, it will skim the ice. It’s very fast, and messing it up would be a very bad thing. For safety’s sake, I’m guessing the move is initiated by her (meaning Jenni starts her own drop to the ice, rather than Todd literally throwing her). Still, if they mess it up, she’s in for a whopper of a headache.

Sources:
-- Figure skating dictionary: http://pages.infinit.net/fortinph/sk8patin/fsdict.html
-- Way too much time watching TV with my wife :)

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