January 11, 2022
What happens when you add JVN to E = mc²? You get an episode of Getting Curious all about physics, explored through one of Jonathan’s favorite topics: figure skating! This week, Dr. Deborah King joins Jonathan to break down the biomechanics behind skating techniques, the cutting edge technology she’s using to research ice sports, and how we can watch the winter Olympics like scientists.
Dr. Deborah King is a professor of biomechanics in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College. She began her work with figure skating in 1993 while with the United States Olympic Committee Athlete Performance Division and has continued to work with the sport for the last 21 years.
Her work in skating has included studying the biomechanics of figure skating jumps, focusing on 3D kinematics of national and internal level figure skaters, studying injury demographics in competitive and non-competitive skaters, and developing an instrumented blade to study impact forces in figure skating.
Transcripts for each episode are available at JonathanVanNess.com.
247 — Can Figure Skaters Defy Gravity? with Dr. Deborah King
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Dr. Deborah King
JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Deborah King, where I ask her: What’s the physics of ice skating? Welcome to Getting Curious, this is Jonathan Van Ness, we have such an exciting episode for you today. Deborah King is a professor and the grad chair of exercise science and athletic training at Ithaca College. She specializes in the biomechanics of sport performance with a focus on, drumroll please: competitive figure skating! This is such a major episode. I think anyone that listens to this podcast knows that I’m, like, almost medically, compulsively diagnosed with figure skating obsession, so you’re the perfect person to ask, Deborah King: what is the physics of figure skating? And first of all, how are you?
DEBORAH KING [00:00:58] I’m doing great. Thanks. Oh, what a big question it is. The physics of figure skating: where should we start?
JVN [00:01:05] I would love for you to kind of share with people: how does someone become an expert in this?
DEBORAH KING [00:01:11] So, I went to college, and I actually majored in math. And I get the question all the time: how do you go from math to biomechanics and exercise science? But math is, like, used in physics. It’s, like, how you understand physics and the world and the universe. And I just loved sports. I did sports growing up, so I thought, “How can I use math?” And I almost majored in physics. So, “How can I use math and physics in sports?” Pre-Google, right, I’m old enough, pre-Google, did some searching in the library, and found this field of biomechanics and it just, like, was perfect. So I went out and did graduate work in biomechanics.
JVN [00:01:46] So then how did you get into, like, figure skating? Were you obsessed with it when you were little?
DEBORAH KING [00:01:49] So we watched the Olympics all the time growing up, when I was little. So it was, like, every four years, you watch the Olympics, but I actually sort of fell into it when I was doing my master’s degree at UMass Amherst, my adviser was, like, “Would you be interested in doing an assistantship out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs?” And who would say no to that? And then while I was there, they work with, like, a sports medicine and science camp with US Figure Skating, so we started working with them and it was just really cool, and I’ve worked with them on and off ever since.
JVN [00:02:21] I feel like, just so that y’all can know because, so Deborah and I, as we’re recording this, we can see each other on our Zoom. And I think Deborah just thought that the computer froze because my mouth was so wide open because, like, I couldn’t even move because, like, I was just, like, in shock. And I was, like, like, I, if someone offered me an assistantship at the US Training Center. So wait, what year, what years were this? Was this, like, in the early 2000s?
DEBORAH KING [00:02:44] Nineties, yeah, nineties, I’m that old.
JVN [00:02:46] So is it safe to say that you were minding your own business at the US Olympic Training Center when none other than Miss Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski were probably coming in and out of there? Like, training and stuff? You probably saw really major people.
DEBORAH KING [00:02:59] I did see major people. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It was so cool.
JVN [00:03:05] OK, so first of all, what is biomechanics?
DEBORAH KING [00:03:09] Oh, that’s such a great question. It’s studying the mechanics of a living system, so you could think of people, we’re living systems, and so studying, like, mechanics of how we move, forces acting on us, the motions we go through, how our body’s joints are loaded. Covers a big range of stuff.
JVN [00:03:27] OK, so that’s what: so it’s studying the mechanics of a living being.
DEBORAH KING [00:03:32] Technically, it wouldn’t have to be a being. It could be a plant. But I do people.
JVN [00:03:37] Ah! You do people. So there are biomechanics people who do, like, trees and, like, other stuff?
DEBORAH KING [00:03:45] Sure. Like you could do, like, how the sap moves through a tree or the roots grow under the soil. Wouldn’t that be cool?
JVN [00:03:51] Yes, I’m like, I feel bad. I feel like you keep thinking that I’m freezing, but you’re just telling me so much cool stuff that my face freezes. OK, so what are some of the principles of, like, human biomechanics? Is it, like, force or something?
DEBORAH KING [00:04:05] Yeah. So a great place to start is with Newton’s Laws. So law of inertia: an object at rest stays at rest, or an object in motion stays in constant motion unless acted upon by external force.
JVN [00:04:20 So that means that, like, I could do my single axel and tilt, and I’ll stay in motion until my body comes back in contact with the ground, which would be that external force.
DEBORAH KING [00:04:30] Yes, but gravity is also a force, so you could do your single axel, if there wasn’t gravity, you would just float up and up and up and up. So gravity actually pulls you to the ground, but then the ground stops you from falling further.
JVN [00:04:42] Oh, god, okay, Jonathan! That is so, I can see, like, why I’m not a physicist now. It’s so many: you got your verticals, you’ve got your horizontals, you’ve got your diagonals. Yeah, you’re dealing with math every which way.
DEBORAH KING [00:04:55] Exactly, and figure skating, it’s, like, up and down and horizontal and you’re rotating. It’s like it’s complicated as it can get.
JVN [00:05:03] What’s the science behind, just, like, walking or, like, jumping? Like, how would like, is it the same forces for, like, all of those movements?
DEBORAH KING [00:05:12] Sort of, yeah, you’ve always gotta remember gravity, because we’re doing everything here on Earth. Friction, it’s a different amount of friction on ice versus on the ground, but, right, there is still friction. And walking, jumping, and figure skating, we probably are not too concerned about air resistance. Some of the sports people are going to watch in the Winter Olympics, air resistance is going to be huge. It’s not going to be that important in figure skating.
JVN [00:05:45] So, friction, gravity, and then air resistance for other things. Is air resistance, like, the people that do, like, the long jumping and skiing, like, they’re really worried about it?
DEBORAH KING [00:05:51] Oh, my gosh, ski jumping! That is such a cool sport. Yes, air resistance is, like, so major.
JVN [00:05:57] OK, so then what about, like, you know how, like, it seems like gymnasts are often like, like, not super duper tall? [CROSSTALK] So what are some of the factors that inform, like, how someone moves, like, their height or, like, body type? Like, is there a, is there a particular, like, form of body that works the best on ice skating?
DEBORAH KING [00:06:18] Sure. So in figure skating, you’re obviously moving your own body. You don’t have, like, like in football where you have to tackle someone else. So you need to get off in the air and rotate fast. So a more petite person, it’s easier to do, because you have less mass to move and with shorter limbs, so a taller person generally has longer arms, a shorter person generally has shorter arms, they’re fairly proportional to your height. So if you have shorter arms and legs because you’re more petite, it’s also easier to rotate and since so much rotating and spinning in figure skating, it helps generally just be a smaller person.
JVN [00:06:58] And then I feel like, you know, we, like, there are certain people in gymnastics, and I think it also definitely happens in figure skating, where, like, you see an athlete, like, maybe just killing it. Like, they, like, win Worlds, they maybe win Olympics or, they’re just like, really, like, hot, like, they’re just up there. And then if they go through, like, puberty or their body changes, like, it just becomes like a whole different thing to, like, maintain your technical elements, like, throughout a growth spurt. So does that have anything to do with it? She was like not only your length, but it’s like if you all of a sudden develop, like, hips or, like, a chest or even could that effect, like, like, someone who’s assigned male at birth and is competing as a cisgender male. Like, if all of a sudden they get, like, way muscle-ier and their shoulders get broader, or they develop, like, bigger pecs or like a bigger bum or like, you know, bigger, stronger legs. Does that make it harder, too?
DEBORAH KING [00:07:51] Yeah. So there’s two things going on there. One is just growth. So if you’re getting taller or broader, that changes not just your mass, but it changes something called your moment of inertia, which is a fancy physics term that’s super important in figure skating. It has to do with how much resistance your body has to start rotating and stop rotating and sort of keep rotating. So it’s sort of, like, mass is a measure of inertia for linear motion. So just when you’re gliding straight, moment of inertia is a measure of resistance for angular motion or rotations. So any time the mass on your body changes where it is—muscle development, growth—it’s going to affect how you’re going to spin and rotate, so that makes it more difficult. And then just the fact that you’re growing, your muscles are sort of having to learn new coordination patterns of what you’re doing. You might not have the same, like, relative strength and power anymore, so you can’t jump as high. So you can’t complete the same jump the same way you used to, could do it. So there could be an awkward set of years until you come out the other side and you’ve sort of reached your matured size.
JVN [00:09:08] Does it apply to flipping and rotation?
DEBORAH KING [00:09:11] It does. You’re just rotating about a different axis, so the figure skaters, with the jumps they’re doing in competition, they’re rotating about, we call it a longitudinal axis, but it’s really the vertical axis going through your head to your toes.
JVN [00:09:25] OK, I’m obsessed with this. OK, OK. So what we’re dealing with on the ice is gravity, friction, the inertia rule, like, Newton’s law of inertia and all that. And then, like, mass.
DEBORAH KING [00:09:43] Yeah. And actually, mass is part of inertia, but we can keep them separate.
JVN [00:09:48] Well, of course, of course, or course, yeah, just for, say, people who are, like, brand new, tiny babies. My physics brain is, like, how long have we been talking? It’s, like, 15 minutes years old. It’s like, that’s, like, it’s not that smart. OK. So, OK. So here’s the other thing I think that people don’t realize about figure skating, because it always, it looks so easy. Like, the first time I went figure skating, I was, like, six. I fully thought I was going to go out there and just be Kristi Yamaguchi. I busted my face. I got, like, a bloody fat lip because, like, I fell. I fell face first. And, like, you’re kind of, like, you’re definitely, like, three, four inches off the ground in figure skates, which you wouldn’t think sounds like that much. But all of a sudden it makes you feel, like, a lot taller. And it’s, like, a skinny ass metal blade, like, it’s extremely small. And there’s two edges on either side of the blade that you literally have to skate on. I’m like, I think that I always thought it was, like, just like a flat plane. But really, there’s, like, there’s two edges, like, an inside edge and an outside edge, and they’re very different and they’re very important, very, like, big toe city or pinky toe city. But I always live in heel city, like, so I’m always falling off the back of myself because I’m always on my heels is what Eliot, my, my coach tells me. So how does, like, being on the ice, first of all, with skates? How does that affect our center of gravity, like, in general?
DEBORAH KING [00:11:05] So I think you said it really well. So your center of gravity or your center of mass is going to be higher, and four inches is pretty much right. I think what the skates affect more than that is something we call the base of support. So the base of support is the area that’s in contact with the ground or for skaters, with the ice. And for most of us who are just walking around with sneakers or something, it’s the whole size of your feet. But with a figure skater, like you said, it’s only maybe depending how big skates are, 12 inches long and an eighth of an inch, at the most, thick. [CROSSTALK] It’s technically like you said, there’s two edges, so you’re going from one to the other. But so in another principle of physics is that to, like, maintain a static position, like, just standing. You have to keep that center gravity lined up over your base of support. So you can imagine if you’re standing still, if you’re just standing on the ice and not moving and you pick one foot up. You have to keep your center gravity within, like, an eighth of an inch back, left to right.
JVN [00:12:09] Or you’re falling, which I’ve experienced lots of times.
DEBORAH KING [00:12:14] Right, right. So I think what’s really different, as for figure skating and on ice, is that you have such a small area to have where your center of gravity can be to still be balanced.
JVN [00:12:25] Mm hmm. So how does a jump on the ice differ from, like, a jump on the ground or concrete?
DEBORAH KING [00:12:35] I’m thinking there’s two things: cause you’ve gotta jump up, and then have to land. So I think both sides are different. Certainly, ice and concrete are both very hard. So that’s one way they’re simpler. Wood is probably fairly hard, but not like ice and concrete. But for the jumping up part and the ice you’re gliding in, so you can build up some speed or some momentum, which is going to make landing both hard and easy, hard because the balance standpoint, but on the other hand, when you land, you don’t have to come to a complete stop, you can glide out, which is nice. So you don’t have, like, say, a gymnast who has to “boom, stick” the landing and come to just halt. You can be balanced, left to right and forward to backwards, but you can still glide.
JVN [00:13:26] Which is actually a measure of judging in figure skating, like, your flow of your jump is actually really important and, like, they really want to, like, you never really want to see, if someone’s grinding to a halt, that means that, like, well, you can stop, like, because it’s choreography, but in a jump, you really should have, like, nice flow, like, out of your jump. That’s, like, a whole thing.
DEBORAH KING [00:13:43] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, momentum.
JVN [00:13:45] I’ve been told that I have, like, a nice flow out of my waltz jump. I have been told. I don’t want to drop big skill names, you know, and people, like, you know, it is that half turn, you know, the waltz jump. And I have been told, and I have been told by several people that I have nice flow out of my waltz. I’m not trying to talk, I’m trying to normalize giving ourselves compliments. You know what I’m saying? So does that mean, though, that, like, doesn’t it, it feels like when I’m falling on the ice, when I’ve had, like, hard falls, it hurts. It’s, like, I’ve tripped and fallen from, like, running, and it definitely feels like it hurts worse on the ice. Is that true? Or am I just being a complainer?
DEBORAH KING [00:14:27] No, it could. I think a couple of things. One, you might have more energy or momentum when you’re falling from your skates because you might be going faster and you’re probably a little higher, maybe, if you’re falling from a jump, so you’re gonna hit the ground with more energy. So then it’s going to be more force acting as you come to a stop. And the other thing that could also make a difference is how you’re, like, what parts of the body you’re falling on, like, when you’re falling and you run, you might just trip and sort of, you know, like, go a little sideways and put your hand down. It’s not that big a deal. You jump, you went up really high, come down and you fall straight on your butt. And it’s just like a straight impact, from high up.
JVN [00:15:09] Yeah, it’s, like, Hip City, it’s, like, Hip City in figure skating. I feel like I’m always on like I’m on like crazy body parts. I’m on, like, an elbow, a shoulder, my hip. So it’s, like, worse injuries for figure skater than, like, random falls.
DEBORAH KING [00:15:22] Yeah, and I think you’re coming from. Most skaters are probably coming from higher up when they fall.
JVN [00:15:28] So, ya’ll, this is a thing that we’ve gone over with Mirai Nagasu, if you remember that episode. But when you see a skater do a combination, there is, in combinations, there’s either a toe loop or a loop. And a loop, you’re just, like, loops are crazy, y’all, because when you land a loop, you’re just landing on one blade and then jumping right back up off that same one. Whereas a toe loop, you get to use that free leg to, like, like, slam your toe, your toe, pick down. It’s, like, “Toe pick!” And you slam it down and then you jump up and do your next part of the combination, so it’s much easier. I’m very much a toe loop girl and I’m a, I’m a pick jumper. Like, I’m better at jumps that have a pick than, like, just using your edge. What is the science behind landing, like, a triple jump or even a double?
DEBORAH KING [00:16:14] So I think landing a jump actually starts before the jump, when you take off. You can’t have an under-rotated jump and have the momentum to carry through to the next one, that flow you were talking about and you need to be sure you’re in a balanced position. So especially if you’re going to either jump, you can do the edge jumps or do a loop. You can’t be, like, too far forward, too far back, too far left, too far right, because you need to land, you’re going to absorb a little bit and then you’re immediately going to jump up again, so you have to be really balanced, right, over your foot. So I think that it being rotated and being balanced over your foot actually is going to start way back at the takeoff.
JVN [00:17:00] Because every little movement builds up on each other.
DEBORAH KING [00:17:02] It does. So if you’re not in the right position at take-off, you’re going to be, like, slanted in the air. Or maybe you’re, didn’t get into rotating position fast enough, so you’re a little under-rotated and then trying to pull off another jump when you’re not in balanced position and not over your foot. And so you can’t, you know, get forced into the ground, pop up in the air and pull in tight. It’s not going to happen or not going to happen prettily. So, you know, you flow out of the next jump.
JVN [00:17:30] And basically just so if anyone doesn’t understand a triple jump is, like, when you, no matter what type of the jump is, you’re jumping up, you do three revolutions and you land. A quad is you jump up, it’s four revolutions and you land. So if you think about spinning around four whole times and your feet, not hitting the Earth, that is, like, some, you’ve gotta jump up pretty high for that. So a triple toe, triple toe in 1988 was very advanced. [CROSSTALK] By the time Michelle was, like, defending her world title in 2000 and 2001, triple triples were starting to become a little bit more. Michelle had a triple toe, triple toe. Well, 1998 and 2002, you had, Tara Lipinski had two triple triples in her gold medal winning performance. Sarah Hughes also had two triple triples and both of their triple triples were edge. Now, like, I mean, we’re having girls doing, like, quad Lutz triple toe. Sasha Trusova, or Alexandra Trusova, but they call her, like, Sasha, but Alexandra Trusova, she has quad toe, triple toe, she has quad lutz triple toe. She’s got, like, such advanced combinations. And you’ve seen this in men’s skating, too. I mean, obviously, like, men weren’t doing quads in the 80s. Then, like, Kurt Browning got the first ratified Quad and then, like, then they started happening more often on the men’s side. And so is these athletes’ ability to complete a quad jump now is that from better training, is it from understanding their physics better? Like, how are they doing these so much harder of jumps nowadays?
DEBORAH KING [00:19:06] Yeah, I think it’s three or four things. I think training, and that’s going to be training, like, off ice training. So strength, power, agility, any of those things to build those skills. I think your technical coach that you’re working with. So learning the on-ice elements, and as more and more is known about doing quads and what ways are working for people and potentially people with different skills. So some people are going to be probably better rotators, and some people are going to be better jumpers in terms of height. And to do quads, you need to sort of be both because you’re getting to the limits of the sport there. And then I think there’s also the element of confidence, so sort of the mental side. So more and more ladies are doing them, so you know, they can be done. So if you’re an elite level figure skater, it’s not something, “Well, maybe someone can do it. It’s been done once or twice.” People are doing it, I’m not going to say all the time, but the top skaters are doing them all the time. So there’s probably no reason an up and coming skater can’t say, “So, I can do that, too.”
JVN [00:20:17] If you follow me on Instagram, you see me figure skating and doing a lot of gymnastics. One way that we stay safe in gymnastics is we, like, learn the skills into the pit, like, you’re, like, you’re doing step into, like, a big foam crash pad. So it really takes some of the pressure off because you can just kind of hurl your body and just, you’re going to be in a foam pit, so you’re most likely not going to get hurt. When you’re skating, we don’t really see foam pits that you can just practice, you know, a triple axel into. So what are some of the ways that, like, figure skaters can train these jumps a little safer?
DEBORAH KING [00:20:52] Yeah. So there’s a couple different things skaters do. You’ve probably done this yourself and it might not help a whole lot. Put some padding in your tights or leggings, but it’s usually only maybe a couple inches thick, so it’s nothing like a foam pit. So maybe it barely takes the edge off.
JVN [00:21:11] Crash pads, we love crash pads.
DEBORAH KING [00:21:13] Exactly. And then, some rinks have harness systems built into the ceiling so you can wear a harness that’s usually on, like, a pulley device, you can actually skate around the rink, around and into the rink, so you can come in to your jump and then the coach can put some lifting force or pressure on the rope, so hopefully as, if you are about to fall or in the air and doesn’t look like you sort of catch you before you land and fall.
JVN [00:21:41] It almost looks like a fishing pole, kind of. But it’s, like, but it’s, like, attached to the ceiling. So it’s like a big, like, almost, like, a trapeze vibe, like, you, like, put a thing around your waist and then when you do your jumps, they, like, “huh!” so you can, like, not fall if it seems like it’s going sketchy.
DEBORAH KING [00:21:55] Yeah, and they make something that looks actually even more like a fishing pole, like, the coach has a pole. So they might just be using it to give you an upward force after you’ve jumped to keep you from landing hard and potentially falling, so you might not actually assist on the way up. So they’re just slowing down the force of gravity on the way down because they’re giving an opposite upward force. They could try to assist you on the way up by giving you an additional force as you’re taking off. It’s going to be the timing of what the coach does and then they would be assisting with your push-off force. But most harnesses are really being used more to, you know, like, catch, sort of catch, catch you on the landing so you don’t fall and hurt yourself. Not really. Cause you don’t really want to change the way you’re taking off because you’re trying to learn a skill.
JVN [00:22:51] So, like, when it comes to, like, the upcoming Olympics, there is, like, literally because every country there can only be, like, three. Some countries get to send three and some good to send two, which, like, goes down to like these rules about, like, your placements in Worlds, like, the previous year. So Russia is going to send three women, we’re going to send three women, too. But in Russia, there’s, like, legitimately, like, seven, yeah, who could really win the Olympics. And then of those seven, like, if two of them or three of them get hurt, there’s, like, another three that they could easily put up in there, that would medal and, like, they really, there’s, like, two American girls and maybe, like, two Japanese girls who could, like, if every single Russian girl, like, fell on everything and just shit their pants on, like, smeared their shit all over the ice rink, literally, then they could win. Like, they can maybe get on the podium at least. But it’s, I would see the chances of a Russian sweep are, like, 90 percent because they swept Worlds in 2021.
DEBORAH KING [00:23:51] Yeah, they’re very strong.
JVN [00:23:52] Very, very strong. So but so if we’re just talking about, like, the Russian nationals from this last year, you’ve got Kamila Valieva, quad toe, quad Salchow, triple axel. They’re all stunning. You’ve got Trusova, who’s got literally quad lutz, quad flip, quad toe, quad Salchow. The only thing she doesn’t have is a quad loop. She has landed them on Instagram, though, and then she has a triple axel. Then you’ve got Anna Shcherbakova, the reigning world champion. She’s got quad flip, quad lutz. Then you’ve got this, like, Maya Khromykh. I don’t know how to say her last name, but she’s got quad Salchow, quad toe. Then you’ve got Alena Kostornaia, who hopefully is going to have her, her triple axel back consistent. And then you have Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who has, like, the world’s most consistent triple axel. She’s twenty four. She’s the world champion from 2015. She just won second in Worlds last year. She’s my husband’s favorite. She’s amazing. So for you, is it, like, is it coaching that’s setting them so apart? Is it, like, is it the jump technique? Like, what the fuck? Like what? How are they so good?
DEBORAH KING [00:25:03] So I watched their jumps. Not had the data to, like, break them down on a computer and analyze them. But what I’m impressed with when I see them is it looks like from watching them on camera how high they’re jumping, higher than I typically see most of the other lady skaters jump. So that’s one thing that stands out to me. They carry a lot of speed into the jumps, so that really helps for the flow on the way out. But depending on what jump they’re doing, particularly if they’re doing, like, a pick jump, that, the extra speed as they come in could help with the force at the front of the ice with the pick and could give them more vertical velocity, because you need vertical velocity to jump up in the air.
JVN [00:25:51] So what about this? OK. OK, but doctor, what about this, queen? Because we talked about under-rotation, right? So under-rotation is if you land under a quarter short, or you know sometimes you’ll say, “But when they landed it, it was clean!” But then sometimes it’ll get downgraded and you’ll be like, “Why?” It’s usually because it was, like, under rotated. Right? But what about, there’s a lot of talk on the Reddit and on the Twitter people that I follow all up in the world of, like, you know, the drama? What about the pre-rotation? Notably, did you notice any, because on the pick jumps, you’re meant to be coming down like on your pick? Yes. But what I learned, because here’s the other thing, everyone. I sent you some of my jumps. And when you slow-motioned my ass, you did inform me that I was hard core doing what’s called a toe wally, like, my toe loop instead of, like, springing off of my toe pick. My whole foot comes down and I jump off like a totally flat fucking blade, which spoiler alert is not what we’re looking for. OK, so I do not have a nice toe loop, as they would say, okay, it’s very-
DEBORAH KING [00:26:54] It’s pretty on the landing.
JVN [00:26:55] Thank you. But the, thank you, that was sweet of you! But the lesson, the flip, you could also do the same thing where, like, you could, like, really, shouldn’t just be your toe pick coming down?
DEBORAH KING [00:27:04] Well, so your toe pick, I think you’re onto something really important. So some of the jumps as you do them correctly, you do actually turn on the pick while you’re still on the ice. So not that every jump is technically, let’s say, a triple jump, not every triple jump is actually three revolutions in the air. Because you do, as you take off, turn on your pick. So if you like slow mo, really, really slow, frame by frame. When the person takes off the ice, they will be maybe a quarter to a halfway around and it’s not doing the jump incorrectly, particularly, like, the toe pick. So, so a toe pick with, like, a toe loop jump, so a triple toe loop, you do turn on your toe as you take off. You don’t go down flat.
JVN [00:27:50] But you did notice some pre-rotation on some of the quads?
DEBORAH KING [00:27:53] Yeah. So, like, we did a study of quad toe loops and, I’m trying to think of where the data came from. Most of it was probably, like, a Skate America event. And most of the skaters, if we took an average, were really almost 180 degrees turned on take off. So their quad is really closer to three-and-half revolutions in the air. But that wasn’t considered cheating because that’s for the toe loop part of the jump. But if we had looked at a lutz, that would not, you can’t really do a lutz correctly and take off like that.
JVN [00:28:30] OK, so based off of your doctoriness, because you’re literally, like, a research scientist in this, any other ‘22 Winter Olympic prospects? Is there any, like, American who you’re, like, “I don’t know, honey. I think she might, I think we might still got it,” like, or like, was there anyone who, like, caught your eye who you’re, like, obsessed with for 2022?
DEBORAH KING [00:28:49] I mean, I think. Yeah. Alysa Liu.
JVN [00:28:53] Yeah, Alysa Liu. She’s major, she’s got her triple axel back, she’s got her triple axel back.
DEBORAH KING [00:28:57] I think she’s skating really well. She has really good jumps. I think she jumps high. She’s got, I mean, obviously skating’s not all about jumps, you have to spin, you have choreographed into the music, elements, interpretation. So I think she’s skating really well.
JVN [00:29:14] She’s definitely become a more complete package, like, definitely, because she used to be all about, like, her triple axel, then her triple lutz, and it is, she’s becoming, like, more of a complete package, which is great.
DEBORAH KING [00:29:23] And I mean, if we go to the men, I think we have some really strong men.
JVN [00:29:28] We have really strong men. But I accidentally am, like, sexist against men when it comes to figure skating and gymnastics, accidentally, because I just, like, watching ladies more, like, the outfits are cuter, I think there’s just more, like, emotiveness, unless you’re Jason Brown or Nathan Chen, because I do feel like they are giving me performance performance. Yes, like they are. There’s a couple of Russians. Actually, I am kind of coming around to men’s a little bit slowly, but surely my coaches are proud of me for that. Slowly but surely, I am just a little bit. I’m also, like, newly obsessed with, like, ice dance and pairs skating, which pairs skating kind of brings in a little bit of that, like tackling ass strength. You know, they’re very acrobatic.
DEBORAH KING [00:30:11] Absolutely. Absolutely.
JVN [00:30:14] Which kind of leads me into this, our next segment, which is advancing science on the ice. So isn’t a lot of your work about, like, helping prevent injuries with skaters and, and how does that research get conducted?
DEBORAH KING [00:30:28] Yeah. So I don’t know if everyone knows this, but figure skaters have a lot of injuries. And they can have, I think what we were describing, for, like, acute injuries from, like, falling in broken bones, bruises, you name it, anything you can imagine when you fall on ice. But they also have a lot of what we call overuse injuries, which are from the often people call them repetitive stress injuries. So from the repeated loading on the body, which in figure skating, there’s a lot of loading more in the more obvious culprits is landing from jumps. So there’s stress loading going up the leg that you land on and how many people know this, but skaters land on the same leg for all the jumps they’re doing, right? So you do your toe loop, you do your lutz, you do your axel. And if you are a righty, you’re landing on your right leg, it’s not like some of your jumps are left-legged jumps and some of them are right on the landing side.
JVN [00:31:26] You’re always landing on your right. I forgot about that. Or your left. It depends on what side when you twist. But because it’s, like, your take-off leg switches sometimes, right, but the landing is always, so if you, like, mess up your, for me, it would be, like, if I mess up my right ankle, that makes everything way trickier.
DEBORAH KING [00:31:43] Exactly. Yeah, I don’t know how many people know that skaters always land on their same leg for all the jumps, even though take-offs look really different. So, yeah, we’re interested in the stress on the body. So they have, they get a lot of stress fractures, for example, in your foot. Knee, obvious knee injuries like jumpers’ knee, hip and low back stress fractures. And that’s just from, I guess, one force I failed to mention beginning something called a normal force in biomechanics. We call it a vertical ground reaction force. Just sort of action-reaction. When you come down to the ice and you push down into the ice there’s an equal but opposite force up on you, and then goes right through your foot to your ankle, up your shin, to your knee, up to hip and low back and we see a lot of stress fractures.
JVN [00:32:30] And so if something isn’t strong enough, it just, that force literally goes up and breaks your fucking bone?
DEBORAH KING [00:32:36] Yeah. So it more gets sort of micro-damaged over time. So there’s something that we would call, like, eustress, e-u-s-t-r-e-s-s, which is good stress, which is part of training, and you do stress to your muscles, to your bones, and then with a little rest and recovery, they build back stronger because they’re, like, “Oh, I don’t want to have this load on me again and get injured. So I’m going to come back stronger so I can handle it.” And then they get a little stronger, and then you stress them again and you do a little damage, and they build back stronger. So you cycle your training so you stress and you recover and you get stronger, both your bones and your muscles, for example.
JVN [00:33:19] Love that.
DEBORAH KING [00:33:21] So that’s a good thing. That’s, like, how we train. But if you don’t have the recovery, and you just keep stressing and stressing, you’re putting load on the body before it’s built back, and then you get micro damage that can go into stress fractures. So you build up over time and then all of a sudden it hurts and you can’t do anything and you take a lot of time off.
JVN [00:33:39] So that could be, maybe, like, why we see some of these, like, younger figure skaters, careers, like, ending a little bit sooner than they like. So I think Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is very much the exception to that rule because she is 24 and she’s just been, like, doing triple axels for literally, like, eight years and just keeps. But it’s like it could be that her training and lifestyle also maybe her biology, like, she might just have stronger bones, like a stronger beginning makeup. But it’s like there are just like we’ve seen, like a lot of skaters recently, that really cannot make it to two Olympic cycles because their body is just, like, done.
DEBORAH KING [00:34:13] It’s hard. It’s hard. Yeah. Unless you’ve been, maybe, to an ice rink and watched while they practice, how loud it is. Every competition, you get, the music, everything looks graceful. The athletes make things look so effortless, but you’re there when they’re learning and they’re training and just the noise and the impact, you can tell how big the forces are. It’s over and over.
JVN [00:34:35] Even the noise when someone falls from a standstill, like, I was just eating when I speak with my coach and there was this older woman and she was standing still, learning her coach was showing her something and she fell from a standstill. It sounded like someone smashed, like, an apple or, like, a cantaloupe, like, on the ground, like, it was the loudest bang, and it was her head, like, hitting the ice. She was OK, but, like, she was OK. But it was, like, it really. It is so, it really is a thing that, like, even I forget about, like, it is very loud and, like, falling and just, it’s really loud.
DEBORAH KING [00:35:09] Yeah. And whacking your head against the ice, concussions are actually a big problem in skating.
JVN [00:35:16] So how do you conduct your research? Like, how do you, like, get the data on this stuff?
DEBORAH KING [00:35:21] Yeah. So that’s a great question. So with the loading on the body, we’ve instrumented and are still working on making a little more robust, the blade of a figure skate. We put strain gauges, which are just a really thin device which measure microscopically, like, smaller than human hair, how much the statue of the blade, the forms when it’s loaded and that signal goes to a computer chip and we have a I know it’s pretty cool, a calibration that matches up like the deformation that occurs with a certain amount of weight on it. So the more weight, the more deformation you would get. So the idea is it’s, it’s pretty non-intrusive because its instrumentation, it’s down under the boot and the blade. So a skater could skate around the ice and that would be recorded on, like, a sort of memory card sitting underneath the boot. And we get that data and come back to a computer and be able to look at the forces that are acting on them while they’re skating because before this, there’s not a lot of ways to measure force on the ice. Most experiments are done in the lab and I would say simulated landings, where the landing on a sheet of artificial ice is sitting on top of a force plate and they could either jump off of something and land that’s replicating sort of a similar height or for ice ice surfaces big enough. You know, they can’t skate around and build up a lot of momentum, but they can maybe do more like a one step into an axel. [CROSSTALK] So, yeah, yeah, yeah.
JVN [00:36:51] What’s that blade called?
DEBORAH KING [00:36:53] Somebody named it like a smart blade we saw named Ice Sense. It’s not, like, commercially available. It’s really just used for research right now. And the way we have it set up right now, you can’t just, like, pull the strain gauges off and put them on someone else’s blade. They get, like, cemented onto a blade, but you probably know this-
JVN [00:37:13] Oh yeah, because you couldn’t have that falling off, like, you couldn’t have, like, a sensored one because you’d break your ass.
DEBORAH KING [00:37:18] No, it’d be really dangerous. Yeah. So right now, if you wanted to put it on someone else’s boot, you would have to unscrew their blade out. I don’t know how many people know that you can actually take blades off of a boot? And then we would take a blade, potentially and put it on their boot. You could imagine some problems with that. It might not be sharpened exactly the same way as they sharpen theirs. So it’s not perfect yet.
JVN [00:37:38] So you’re still, cause, So basically, that’s kind of been, like, a hindrance and even, like, the research technology on understanding figure skating injuries because it’s, like, there needs to be better technology to even understand, like, what it’s doing to the body.
DEBORAH KING [00:37:48] Exactly. Yeah, yeah. So we’re getting better, but it’s not there yet.
JVN [00:37:52] So what’s, like, the most common injuries that you see in your field out of competitive figure skaters?
DEBORAH KING [00:37:58] Yeah, absolutely. So stress fractures, lower extremities. So, ankle-foot stress fractures are probably the most common, and the knee injuries, something called, like, “jumper’s knee,” which from doing all the jumps and landings, you use your quad muscles, which are the muscles on the front of your thigh a lot and that inserts on the front of your leg and you can get overuse injuries so, like, tendonitis and swelling, it can be really painful.
JVN [00:38:28] What about hips?
DEBORAH KING [00:38:29] Oh, absolutely, yeah. You see hip injuries.
JVN [00:38:34] My hips hurt, girl, that’s why I’m asking.
DEBORAH KING [00:38:36] Is that from falling? Is that from falling?
JVN [00:38:38] Yeah, because I fall, I fall on those fuckers so hard.
DEBORAH KING [00:38:42] So I see a lot of bruises and contusions. I was thinking of, when you land, most people have probably seen a figure skate. It’s pretty stiff that they can be heavier, like probably depending on the elite skaters use are probably a little lighter than maybe what you rented a rink. But they’re very stiff around the ankle, so your ankle doesn’t flop back and forth, left or right. But that makes it really hard to use your ankle to absorb forces when you land. Cause if you or I were to jump up and land or any of your listeners on the ground. You land on your forefoot or under the ball, your foot and you use your ankle, the knee and hip to draw forces. And you sort of do that in a figure skater, but you don’t have the whole range of motion to go through to land softly because, because the boot design, so you’re probably using your knees and your hips are taking a little more of the brunt of the landing than if you were able to absorb some that force down the ankle. So that force is sort of passed up the chain, we call it the chain: ankle, knee, to hip.
JVN [00:39:44] Ah, the chain of command, honey! Like, one thing I definitely didn’t understand about figure skating, like your foot is, like, crammed into a like. It’s really, there’s no space in there like, it’s not comfortable wearing a boot. Like, I gave myself bunions after, like, two months on each skate. Like, it’s not, it’s meant to feel like an extension of your foot, but not a comfortable one.
DEBORAH KING [00:40:04] Yeah, and that’s one problem with technology. So, originally we wanted to use some of the insoles that measure pressure or forces. There’s a lot out there that use, like, volleyball or basketball or just for walking, but it’s hard to fit them in a boot, which sounds crazy, because why can’t you just slide it in the insole of a boot? But there’s so little room in an elite level skater’s boot that the technology really wasn’t working for us.
JVN [00:40:28] Yeah, it really. I mean, it’s, like, I can’t even wear, like, a normal sock, like, it. Like, it’s, like, it has, like, a skinny. There’s no extra room for anything down there. What about, like, post-retirement? Like, do, do you see a lot of elite skaters, like, having, like, their bodies just, like, fucked up for life? Or is that something that, like, elite skaters are thinking about now? Like, how to, like, save their bodies and, like, be injury-free either for longer within their career or keep their bodies, like, safer for post their career?
DEBORAH KING [00:40:54] I would like to think they’re thinking about that because I think there are skaters who we’ve definitely heard of long term consequences, skaters who’ve had joint replacements at relatively young age, compared to when probably most of the population is getting joint replacements. But I’m not sure when you’re in the competition and going to try to win Worlds that you’re necessarily focusing on that.
JVN [00:40:17] On post-life, yeah.
DEBORAH KING [00:41:18] No, yeah, I think it’s, the people who should be focusing it probably are on the people who are designing boots and blades, and the strength and conditioning coaches working with the athletes, just to try to be sure technique is as good as it can be, and their muscle strength is as good as it can be, and the equipment they’re using is ideal. I don’t think any elite athlete is necessarily thinking about the long-term consequences as they’re an elite athlete, maybe some football now with some of their traumatic brain injuries.
JVN [00:41:53] Oh yeah, that’s true. So as we are rapidly approaching the Olympics, which I can’t even believe, how can we, like, watch the Olympics and the rest of the figure skating season, and for the rest of our lives, how can we watch figure skating more like a scientist? So, like, what should we be looking for as we watch a skater jump?
DEBORAH KING [00:42:11] Oh, when I watch a skater jump, I like to look at how fast they’re going into the jump. So do they, like, build up a lot of speed coming into the jump? Are they approaching it a little more tentatively or slowly? So speed is going to help them with that flow coming out and going to another program, and they should build up some, for the figure skating people, grade of execution points, to make their big score bigger. I like to look when they, like, just like, look, like, they pop up in the air. So is it, like, a really high parabola or arch in the air and something that’s just skimming over the surface. And I like to see how tight they are in the air. So if you look almost like a pencil, like, the elbows aren’t sticking out, the feet aren’t sticking out. They should look really tight. And then when they land, like, you shouldn’t even notice a glitch in the landing, it should just be so effortlessly smooth.
JVN [00:43:05] Yeah, no, like, hooking or, like, obviously falling or, like, a step out.
DEBORAH KING [00:43:10] Yeah, or even just where they come down, it looks like they sort of scrape against the ice and are still sort of rotating a little bit, or they almost fall, but don’t fall, so everything just sort of stays in a nice arc all the way through.
JVN [00:43:25] So this is a very controversial question for figure skating fans, but for people that don’t know so much about figure skating. And you know, and fans are going to have their opinions, too, no matter how you answer this, how can we predict whether one skater will get a higher score than another for doing the same move?
DEBORAH KING [00:43:41] Oh my gosh, I’m not sure you could! But, so every jump that you watch has a base score. So as long as it’s not underrotated or downgraded, everyone should be starting the same base score. And then the judges are going to award you, sort of, bonus points because of grade of execution or take off some points if it’s not done well and make a bigger jump is generally going to be probably better than a smaller jump. A jump that I’m going to say is maybe well balanced in terms of you take off, you rotate, and you land, and it doesn’t look like you’re still, you know, eking out the landing all the way in. So the rotations are maybe more balanced on each side. So you, don’t maybe, aren’t really tilted in the air because you might be really tilted in the air and you can still land it, but you’re sort of really leaning forward even if you don’t put your hand out.
JVN [00:44:35] It, like, looks scary, even if you’re, like, in the air.
DEBORAH KING [00:44:39] Yeah, yeah, I don’t know, unless you’re a judge, I’m not sure you could actually predict it.
JVN [00:44:42] And also sometimes, like, it’s like, not fair. I mean, sometimes, like, you know, there’s, like, not fairness in the judging. I think another thing that people often don’t realize, too, when it comes to that creative execution score, is that, like, if this skater has, like, a much more complicated entry into the jump or a much more complicated transition directly out of the jump, like, if they land on one foot and then, like, pick their skate up above their head, like, leaving the jump without putting that foot down, they sometimes will give them a higher grade of execution, because the transitions were really difficult. Yeah. Also, if their arms go up.
DEBORAH KING [00:45:16] What you do with your arms, yeah.
JVN [00:45:18] There was, like, a year or two there where if the skater put their arms above their head, period, they gave them a higher grade of execution. But then they did away with that rule. And so now they can give you a higher grade of execution if your arms are up and it looks good. But if you put your arms up and it looks, makes it look sketchy, then they don’t necessarily, like, reward you for that. So because you’re like a literal biomechanics doctor, and you just so happen to study figure skating, but you said you grew up watching, you know, the Olympics. I’m a massive Olympics fan. Do you think there are other sports that we would, like, appreciate more if we understood the science behind them better?
DEBORAH KING [00:45:53] Oh my gosh. Every single Winter Olympics sport. The Winter Olympics sports, I mean, take place either upside on a mountain. So snow and ice and, like, gravity and this crazy fast. So it’s not a lot of friction, gravity is accelerating down the hill. Balance is usually difficult, you’re on skis and you’re on skates.
JVN [00:46:14] So what about curling, is that air friction? I would imagine with curling, isn’t that a huge deal because you want to get, like, the chunks of the ice out of the way or something?
DEBORAH KING [00:46:23] So I’m going to say surface friction. [CROSSTALK] Yeah. So the rock or the stone on the ice is going to be really important. So you see the sweepers, with the little brooms sweeping in front of it? Yeah. So curling is, I’m going to say, like, phenomenally cool to watch, but maybe more athletic than most people think?
JVN [00:46:44] So are you trying to say that you understand curling? Because I don’t.
DEBORAH KING [00:46:48] A little bit, a little bit.
JVN [00:46:51] So you can, like, watch it on TV and be, like, “Ooh, it’s, like, the second set” or, like, “It’s the long program. And if they land this combination…” like, you understand the sport?
DEBORAH KING [00:47:00] A little bit!
JVN [00:47:01] Because I don’t, what the fuck are they doing over there? So it’s, like, I’m, it’s, like, on ice, like, bowling ball lane, kind of. And there’s a bull’s eye, and then there are those rocks with the handle, and then there’s the sweepers and are sweepers wearing ice skates. No, they’re in tennis shoes.
DEBORAH KING [00:47:18] No, but they’re so cool. They have one shoe they can glide on and one shoe they can, like, push on with friction.
JVN [00:47:23] But then the thrower, the person who throws the stone. Are they in ice skates? Or are they in those shoes, too?
DEBORAH KING [00:47:30] They, they all have those types of shoes, but some of them have, like, a little rubber shoe cover that you can take on and off. So you can, you know, change that. It’s, like, slippery versus traction.
JVN [00:47:43] And what are they doing up there? They’re, like, what is it? It’s like, is it a set, is it a game? Is it a different podcast because it’s going to take so long to understand curling? But can you tell us in, like, five seconds?
DEBORAH KING [00:47:53] So they have, I would say rounds, and two teams are sort of, like, maybe shuffleboard, I don’t know, sliding the rock down, and trying to get it close to the pin. But it’s very strategic because you can knock other people’s out of the way, like, billiards, too, maybe knock people’s out of the way, and you try to get more stones or rocks inside the circle than the other team, essentially, by the time you’ve all your team has thrown all of them.
JVN [00:48:18] And so how many rocks does each team get to throw?
DEBORAH KING [00:48:21] I think it’s eight eight, two per four people on the team. I think so.
JVN [00:48:25] So everyone gets to throw two and there’s four on the teams, and the sweepers and the throwers change? [CROSSTALK] Okay, that’s kind of fun.
DEBORAH KING [00:48:30] Yep, yep. And there’s kind of, there’s a leader who sort of decides where they’re aiming for and stuff like that.
JVN [00:48:36] And when you say it’s more athletic than people think, why? Because you got to, like, squat on your knee, run up there, and do it?
DEBORAH KING [00:48:41] I was going with flexibility and strength. So they come out and they glide and they’re balancing on one foot. And it’s like, you sort of, maybe, like, a little yoga would be really good. And then, you know, you’re gliding and balancing. And then the sweepers have to, like, move themselves down the ice without falling, without bumping anybody else’s stone. And, like, they’re crazy vigorously sweeping back and forth. Yeah, I just don’t think most of us could get down and glide in that position and release a stone. I think that’s really hard, and you watch some of the, like, strength and conditioning stuff they do, where they’re balancing on one leg and throwing medicine balls and stuff like that. They actually, like, do training.
JVN [00:49:24] OK, this was, like, a really fun detour. Like, on curling. It was, like, really fun and awesome. Okay, so what about, as an expert in biomechanics, what excites you the most about watching sports and athletic competitions, generally?
DEBORAH KING [00:49:40] And I think how effortlessly people make these crazy, difficult skills look, because it seems like, “Oh my gosh, look what this person did and they make it look so easy.” And then you go out and maybe just try downhill skiing, like, at your local ski area. It’s not that easy, and you think of the downhill skiers going, like, 80, 90 miles an hour, 70 miles an hour, depending, in control. Go off a jump and they cover, like, a football field’s length in the air and land, and it just looks so natural and effortless. And so all the sports, like aerial skiing, when they go off the ramp and they’re doing all the flips and stuff in the air, that’s just amazing.
JVN [00:50:23] Just I love that.
DEBORAH KING [00:50:24] Oh, I know. I just think of, like, what I can barely do in sports, and I see these people and it’s just awe-inspiring.
JVN [00:50:32] OK, and then, it is so cool. So this is, is there anything, going back to figure skating? Like, do you think? I mean, we just, Yuzuru Hanyu, like, I think it was like last year he attempted a quad axel, but fell really, really hard. We still haven’t had anyone land a quad axel. Then there was this other Russian guy that came, like, really close, like, in a practice, like, on a YouTube video or something. Do you think there’s any moves that, like, right now, are considered impossible, but we maybe could see?
DEBORAH KING [00:50:58] Yeah. So I think the quad axel is a good example. I think that a quintuple jump is also a good example. I think a lot of people come down one side of this or the other. I absolutely think that we could see quintuple jumps.
JVN [00:51:15] That would really be like four and a half with the toe loop.
DEBORAH KING [00:51:18] Exactly, exactly, yeah.
JVN [00:51:19] Which is almost a quad axel, too.
DEBORAH KING [00:51:22] Exactly. Exactly. And there’s got to be an upper limit, because you can only jump so high. I mean, there are limits to how much force you’re going to be able to produce, and how high you can be able to jump. You can only get yourself so narrow, so you can only get your moment of inertia so small. And the other variable that we didn’t talk about is rotational momentum or anchor momentum, like, you’ve got to generate rotation while still on the ice. So then when you’re in the, in the air and you bring, come in, you take off and go really fast. So, I don’t know what the limits are in being able to produce rotation momentum, the more of that you get as you take off, the faster you should be able to go in the air. But generally, what we’ve seen when we’ve studied people is the more effort you put into generating rotation momentum, generally, your jump height suffers a little bit or vice versa. Like, it’s hard to, you know, increase both at the same time, and certainly that’s what we’re going to take, we need someone who can jump high, someone who can get that rotational momentum and pop in really tight, but there’s going to be a limit to what the human body can do. But I think four and a half in the air is going to be possible for skaters. So that could be a quint or potentially a quad axel.
JVN [00:52:34] So what you were saying was is that, like, when you try to pull in tighter, that either makes you not jump as high or, like, like, if you try to, like, rotate faster and get tighter, like, it would, it’s usually makes the height or the length suffer, which would make it harder to rotate it.
DEBORAH KING [00:52:53] Yeah, as people are learning the jumps, I think it’s really hard to maintain one thing as you’re trying to add the other. So you start off and see, like, a decrease. And I think potentially once they learn it, then they get, you know, if they get back to where they have the height and the rotation. But it’s hard to, when you learning something new, like, work on sort of two things at once.
JVN [00:53:15] And then it’s about just, like, preventing, like, injuries while they’re learning that hard of skills.
DEBORAH KING [00:53:20] Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So I don’t know if there could be technological gains in ways for people to practice with not having injuries that come from landings. I don’t know what that would look like. Besides the harnesses that we talked about.
JVN [00:53:36] Or maybe, like, a more flexible boot or something to, like, let you, like, use your ankle without it, like, spraining your ankle?
DEBORAH KING [00:53:52] Yes, yeah. So there are companies that make different types of boots. They haven’t really taken off. I think one problem with some of the more creative boot designs is if you are already an accomplished skater, and you learn everything on one boot, and you go to a boot that’s behaving very differently, you can have downtime while you acclimate to it. Sort of like having to go through growth spurts, you know, and you can’t in the middle of your, probably, elite career, have a year or two where you’re not performing.
JVN [00:54:08] Right, too risky.
DEBORAH KING [00:54:11] Yeah. So it’d have to probably be someone who grows up with some of the newer designs, and that might be a coach being willing to, like, encourage people to use different boot so that the boot designs that I’ve seen or even blades can maybe have a little. I don’t know exactly what the rules are and what place you can use in figure skating, but a bleed that could absorb some forces. I’ve seen some companies put some material between the boot blade, which was supposed to dampen forces. So there’s room for some technology, maybe to help with some of the impacts, technology maybe to help with some of the jumping.
JVN [00:54:43] I wonder if the Russian girls are putting a little bit of felt in their boots and it gets hidden in there, we don’t even see it. We got some gel insoles in there and we don’t even know. Is there any moves that, like, you would love to see someone try, like, has never been tried or like? Do you have any, like, creative, like, things, like, “Oh, it’d be fierce if they did, like, this or that?”
DEBORAH KING [00:55:01] So, I’ve never really thought about this, but I have people ask me this all the time, “Why don’t skaters do this?” Also this out there? I get people who want skaters to be able to choreograph their programs and be able to jump both ways. So righty and lefty. So you’re skating part of a program, you’re jumping right and somehow you do some skill. So now you’re skating around, so you do a lefty jump and do, like, a double or triple lefty. So that’s just like a single jump, but actually be able to do maybe a triple jump both ways. I don’t know what the choreography would look like for that? Cause, you know.
JVN [00:55:35] I’ve seen Gracie Gold do opposite double axels. Yeah, and it looks really hard.
DEBORAH KING [00:55:41] Yeah, so, I mean, I think that would be potentially really cool, but I’m not sure how it worked into a whole choreographed program.
JVN [00:55:48] I feel like they could do it because even in your choreographic sequence, you have to do, like, turns to the right, and turns to the left, without putting your skate down. So it’s, like, you just, like, change your crossover, like, just for that jumping pass. It wouldn’t be, like, impossible. It would just be like, how do you not fall and break your elbows?
DEBORAH KING [00:56:03] Yeah, and I think they’d have to award, change the point system, so that if you’re jumping to a non-normal side, it’s worth more, you know what I mean? Because otherwise it’s not worth, it wouldn’t be worth the risk if you’re not getting more points for it.
JVN [00:56:16] Or it could also be, like, an unfair reward for someone who’s just, like, naturally, like, can go either way. I tumble, I do gymnastics with this one girl who can do a standing full to the left and standing full to the right. Yeah, she can do both ways. Where if I even try to do a cartwheel on my right side. It looks like there’s something wrong with me.
DEBORAH KING [00:56:35] Yeah, so I mean, that would be really cool to see.
JVN [00:56:39] And Irina Slutskaya used to do this. She used to, like, do, like, like, a combo said sit spin, like a combo sit spin to the right, and then she would change her foot and switch and go to the left. It was so hard looking, like, I can’t even imagine that. Yeah. So Deborah, we reached the part in the podcast where it’s, like, yogini recess. We’ve covered all my bases. I feel complete. I feel like I learned. I feel like I can’t wait for people to just, like, watch winter sports and understand all the science that has to do with sports. But is there anything we missed or that you would just be, like, “Oh, we don’t even get to talk about this one other cool thing that I love?” Or do you feel complete, too?
DEBORAH KING [00:57:15] Oh my gosh. I don’t know. I think we did a pretty good job. [CROSSTALK] Talked about jumping, rotating, landing?
JVN [00:57:24] What about, like, centrifugal force, for spins?
DEBORAH KING [00:57:26] Oh, that’s really important. Yeah! Because did you know that in some of the jumps, you probably know this, that the force you need to pull your arms in can be about, like, up to one-and-a-half times your body weight. [CROSSTALK] Yeah, so, like, the upper body strength of skaters is really quite impressive. I know they aren’t bulky because that doesn’t help with skating because we talked about that moment of inertia, but you still have to be strong. So when you spin around in a circle, you know how your arms just want to pull out so they want to keep, like, moving along. And the way they’re going, so you have to use your muscles to pull in and hold them in tightly. And the force you need to pull your arms in can be, like, one- to one-and-a-half times your body weight. So if you think about that? Think about one half times your body weight would be, like, if someone was sliding over a cliff that was equal to your body weight. You had to grab them and hold them and maybe even pull them back up. So a skater technically is sort of strong enough to do that, like, hold someone and keep them from falling over a cliff.
JVN [00:58:29] Unless, like, the skater’s, like, one hundred and twenty pounds and the person falling is, like, like, you know, 300 pounds.
DEBORAH KING [00:58:34] That’s a very valid point.
JVN [00:58:37] That would be a different thing. But what about, like, the body weight? Like, what about the force of body weight, like, when ice skaters fall from a jump because like, wouldn’t you be landing with, like, more impact than your body weight?
DEBORAH KING [00:58:46] Oh, absolutely. So that’s a great question. So that’s what we’re trying to measure with those boots, the instrument boots. So, I mean, estimates are that forces from landing from jumps could be anywhere from maybe either five or six times your body weight, which is still a lot, up to 10, 12, 14 times your body weight. Yeah, so they’re really big. And what people look at, too, is not just how big the force is, but how quickly it acts on you. Because of the ice on concrete that we talked about. The landings are really quick, like, more, as opposed to landing on foam, which spreads the impact over more time. So it’s what we call a high loading rate.
JVN [00:59:24] Aliona Kostornaia just, at her, at, it was the French Grand Prix, she fell on her triple axel so fucking hard and she was, like, “Not today, Satan.” She stood back up and she just fucking kind of, like, shook her arm off and you could tell that she was pissed. I’m going to. I gotta pull it up so I can show you.
DEBORAH KING [00:59:48] When they’re falling, they’re usually going from, like, up to straight down, it’s not like a gradual fall where body parts sort of just gradually come to contact with the ice, just, like, “wham!” all over, all at once. I mean, you know, this, like, skaters’ bodies just are covered with, like, bruises and bursitises. The lumps and bumps all over their feet and ankles and bruises on their hips.
JVN [01:00:16] When I was going through it with, like, the Olympics this summer and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re not the best anymore.” And then I was like, “Why am I willing for our people to, like, suffer under, like, abusive regimes, like, just for us to win gold medals?” And then I realized it was those NBC Olympic packages. Oh, it’s watching those when I was, like, five and six and seven. I thought my brain up, and it literally took Simone to, like, pull out for me to be like, “Wait, no, I love the sport.” Like, it’s fine if we don’t win. It’s just like those American slow-motion flags, and, like, all the girls going, like, I was, like, “They’re my best friends and I’ll kill for them!” It totally, like, made me crazy, because they do that in figure skating, too, and I was, like, “Whoever tries to take Michelle, I’ll kill them!” Just because it’s, like, I thought I was, like, their best friend. And I just wanted to be, like, the best friend for gymnasts and figure skaters to the point that I, like, hated everyone else. Yeah. Not anymore. I like everyone.
DEBORAH KING [01:01:04] That’s good. That’s good.
JVN [01:01:06] But there is still a part of me that cheers when other people fall that aren’t American, so it’s still in there.
DEBORAH KING [01:01:09] Do you, oh my gosh.
JVN [01:01:12] So you don’t have that at all? That’s just a me thing?
DEBORAH KING [01:01:16] Not, I don’t know, not necessarily, no. I like skaters and athletes from other countries.
JVN [01:01:21] It’s the only place where I’m, like, a blinding patriot.
DEBORAH KING [01:01:25] It might depend on what sport, like, the women’s national team, soccer. So yeah, that’s, like, yeah, for them. [CROSSTALK] But like for most of the individual sports, I’m going to go with No. I don’t know why.
JVN [01:01:40] That’s I think that’s really, like, healthy of you. I wish I was like that. But that’s not how I operate anymore! I am aware of its existence inside me and I’m, like, “No, no, no, we’re going to cheer for everybody, we’re gonna cheer for everybody now.”
You’ve been listening to Getting Curious with me, Jonathan Van Ness. My guest this week was Deborah King. Larry, I’m working, I need you to pipe down.
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Getting Curious is produced by me, Erica Getto, and Zahra Crim.
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