The whole world was following figure skaters performances during the Olympic games in Pyeongchang with the same excitement as a quarter of century ago. The american movie “I,Tonya” and the russian movie “Ice” were due out at the same time. And both of these movies are showing the world of figure skating with all its background. In other words, figure skating is a hot topic once again.
We see on the ice graceful athletes and exciting skiing accompanied by wonderful music during the competitions and ice shows. But what we do not see is the exhausting daily work that ice dancers have to accomplish almost from the early childhood. The spectator does not suspect, and should not suspect, the difficulties and problems athletes are facing so that then the audience could enjoy their performance.
The technique of preparing for competitions has not changed much for many decades: the most important thing is work and work once again. But now advanced technologies are involved in the preparation for a brilliant performance on the ice. In what ways can they help skaters? First of all, this is the collection and analysis of information: the state of the athlete’s body, the technique of performing individual elements, the forecasts of the recession and peak of its resources, the optimization of loads during training. It seems that not much depends on this, but it is only at first glance like that.
Champion from the inside
A human body is like a mysterious black box. Whatever you do with it, you can never be sure how it will result. This is well known, for example, by those who tried to lose weight on fashionable proven diets and only gained more weight as a result.
The reason to this is that the same action on two different bodies can lead to two fundamentally different results. It has long been known that these results will be more predictable, if, for example, all changes in the body of a particular athlete during the training process will be fixed. But it was not possible at all to do it during the time of the world champion of 1896 Gibert Fuch and became theoretically possible in the era of Katarina Witt, but in order to do it you would need to completely cover the athlete with wires. So the work of the skater and coach required not only work, but also intuitive guesses and brilliant insights.
Today, athletes of the Olympic level rely more on accurate calculation. Imagine a program that collects all the information about events occurring inside the body during the recreation and training of the figure skater. It processes information and on its basis calculates predictions: how the heart, lungs, muscles of a particular organism will function in particular situation.
The scheme of work with athletes is as follows. The athlete’s body is fastened with chips that collect information both during competitions and during training. The data are transferred to the analytical center, from which a complete analysis of the body’s state comes: from the changes in the pulse to the blood composition. Based on the analysis, recommendations are drawn up used by the athlete, his trainer and the sport doctor in order to achieve the best result.
Training centers, equipped with such technological achievements, already exist in Germany, the USA, Norway, Spain and other countries.
Jump Control Center
The complexity of the performance and the requirements to it are growing every year. The athletes have to reach such heights that 15 years ago looked unattainable while fighting for medals. For example, in pair skating you can now win, only by performing a quadruple emissions and tweaks. A female athletes performing single dance do not get medals without triple axels and jumps four turns.
Have you ever wondered why the triple jump was a sensation some time ago, and now all the skaters-champions are able to perform jumps in four turns at once? People have not changed much physically for a couple of decades after all. How did it become possible that it was not possible before? A considerable part of the success is largely owed to high-tech training systems.
Modern training rollers are equipped with speed sensors and other equipment that fixes the number of kilometers that the athlete passed during training and the speed of rotation in the air. Moreover, when the complex element is obtained not too smoothly, IT-technologies are able to tell which muscles of the athlete need additional work.
The work performed in the video analysis hall equipped with a tensor platform, on which athletes land after a jump or ejection will help calculate the height and direction of the jump, work out the accuracy of the skaters movement. This device captures both the effort that the skater applies and his “flight trajectory”.
Infrared sensors are used to bring the correct movement to automatism and fix it in the muscle memory. They are placed on the athlete’s body, and they reflect the infrared rays from the cameras in the hall. The information from the sensors is processed by a special program, which builds a volumetric model of the body of the athlete in motion on the basis of this data.
The difficulty of today’ performances makes the heroes of Pyeongchang-2018 often compared to robots. Figure skating fans usually regret that there is less creativity in figure skating now.
And against the backdrop of the technically sensational performances of Alina Zagitova and Yudzuru Khan, there is no chance for such incredibly artistic athletes like for instance Adam Rippon to win.
However, Rippon himself did not crushed, but turned his face to scientists from the University of Dalar. The Professor Jim Richards, Tom Keppl, an expert in the creation of sports simulators and their team were working with the american figure skater.
Adam Rippon had to wear a special suit with metal sensors and go to the laboratory ice arena, equipped with high-speed cameras. The rest was the work Rippon was familiar with: a runaway and a triple lutz. The image is immediately translated on the monitor in 3D. Then the researchers changed the parameters and created a new model on the next monitor – with a different position of the shoulders and elbows – and launched it into a virtual jump. Lutz, made by Rippon’s “improved copy,” was taken as a model, and the figure skater can only repeat after it.
“The guys from the lab showed my computer clone, and next to it the same clone, but with the right elbows,” the skater summarized.
This sounded not too sensational, but as the result Rippon has dramatically improved his jumping technique. Six months later the figure skater again came to the University of Dalar and again performed triple lutz in the laboratory arena. The result made Rippon freeze in amazement: now his computer clone was moving in the same way as the improved copy! A week after the second visit, the athlete first performed lutz in four turns.
Be aware of children training
The age of four is the right age to come to figure skating. It’s enough for children to do the same thing as they would do 50 or even 100 years ago in order to love this sport and to be happy to go to the ice rink on weekends in winter: they have to learn to skate, learn the steps and elements, and repeat it over and over again. But today this is not enough to win the competition.
There is an additional difficulty while working with children-athletes: the lack of guarantees that the young skater will want to spend adult life fighting for medals. And without such guarantees only the fews will want to invest in expensive equipment.
Now the coaches are constantly increasing the number of hours spent on the ice competing for high performance and do not really care a lot about about the necessary preparation of the locomotor apparatus of the child for the load.
Enjoying the victories of figure skaters we rarely think about how many athletes did not reach adult competitions and lost their health due to serious injuries received as a child, due to serious overloads of a fragile body. Psychological overloads also often push young athletes who have given high hopes, as they say, to leave the race.
But everything changes when IT-achievements come into play. There are already technologies that allow you to design the result and calculate the optimal path to it. That means the child’s body is being formed by future loads while child is growing.
The famous Russian coach Alexei Mishin is the coach of such famous athletes as Alexey Urmanov, Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, Arthur Gachinsky, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. Mishin is one of the most active supporters of high-tech training. He claims that figure skating requires an incredibly high coordination from the athlete. Figure skaters have to take a pose and make movements that are completely non-typical for the human body. We are talking for example, about fast rotations around the longitudinal axis, ejections and jumps with a landing on one leg. And the nature does not have the resources to perform such elements. Therefore, according to Alexei Mishin, the preparation of modern champions requires technologies similar to those that prepare cosmonauts for star launches, overloads and work in weightlessness.
So, it seems that in the coming years the skating training system will completely change, both for children’s clubs and for professional athletes with the help of new technologies. And there are serious reasons to hope that the result of these changes will be one hundred percent safe. So, we will see a generation of happy and healthy champions.
Moreover, someone will win at the Olympics, someone will have the opportunity to become a coach, and the others will remain healthy, optimistic and strong in order to devote their lives to something else.