Friday, October 30, 2009

Twisted Metal

PS Magazine, November/September 2009


Just a short time ago, US Figure Skating held their annual Champs Camp. Thirty of the 46 attendee's had their boots and blades analyzed focusing on what possible affect poor equipment could have on their performance. In order to protect the innocent, I will not share any names… those doing the checking, the skaters, or the boot or blade manufacturers. The skate technician at the camp looked for bent blades, blades that were not in vertical alignment with the boot, sharpening which covered radius of hollow and edge level, and the use of orthotics.

Interesting enough, 11 of the 30 skaters had some sort of bend in at least one blade. Those who do mount blades know that blades can be twisted or bent during the mounting process. As it was explained to me, it only takes one screw put in at an angle to cause this problem. Skaters can bend their blades while skating. It’s not hard to imagine the amount of pressure put on boots and blades when you see the speed and height needed to land triples, or in the case of pairs, watching those girls sail 20 feet across the ice and from a height higher than the boards.

Thirty-three percent of this elite group of skaters had mounting problems. As a general rule, blades should be vertical under the foot. There are exceptions where a blade is placed off vertical on purpose, but the consequences should be well thought out prior.

But of these issues, sharpening appeared to be the worst problem with nearly 67% of the blades out of level. Comparing these figures to the ones above, it makes total sense. A bent blade won't sharpen with level edges and it is the responsibility of the technician to make sure the blades are straight before sharpening. Most of the time out of level edges are the result of inaccurate sharpening. This is a problem.

I think about NASCAR and how they “tune“ their cars before and during a race to reach optimal balance to achieve the greatest speed and performance of the car. The US Olympic Committee goes on and on about “Sustained Competitive Excellence.” Do you think having a bent blade will help your skater achieve that? How often as a coach do you look at your student’s equipment? Do you check them when they just get them sharpened? Do you mount their blades or do you have someone else do it? More importantly, do you know HOW to mount a blade correctly, or even check if a blade is bent or has uneven edges?

Kind of reminds me of a recent problem I had with my computer at home… I could not for the life of me figure out why the computer would not turn on. My son asked me if it was plugged in... Oops! I know, Wedding Crashers rule number 5, “I’m an idiot!” But seriously, sometimes we get so caught up with an inconsistent jump, we search for answers by changing patterns, positions, timing…generally chasing our tails when in fact it could be something as simple as a bent blade, bad sharpening or poor mounting. I am going to venture a guess but I am willing to state for the record that most coaches do not know how to do any of those things…

Solution? This is a PSA problem to solve and I promise you that we will. Look for articles in future PS magazines, e-learning courses and presentations at seminars, workshops, and conference. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll be mounting or sharpening blades, but you will learn how to recognize the problem.