Why do figure skaters skate backwards more than they skate forwards?
If you are a regular follower of figure skating you must have noticed that figure skaters glide and skim backwards more than they skate forward, have you wondered why? The majority of the jumps in figure skating are executed while skating backward. The other reason is that skating rearwards helps generate more power and speed, though, backwards skating is one of the most difficult skills to learn as a novice in figure skating.
In a competition, figure skaters try to grab more and more points, therefore, they attempt the most difficult jumps and moves in figure skating. These jumps and moves are mostly initiated while skating backwards and are always completed with a skater landing on a back outside edge. Consequently, the spectators always end up seeing more backward skating than forwards skating. Let’s take a look at some of the figure skating jumps that are carried out while skating rearwards.
Jumps That Require Skating Backward
The Toe Loop
In this jump, both take-off and landing are carried out while skating rearwards. It starts and ends on the back outside edge of the same foot. It is one of the simplest of jumps and many figure skaters perform this jump at the start of their performance in a competition. Thus, they seem to skate backwards more than the forwards.
It is also a backward skating jump. The salchow jump initiates from the back inside edge and ends on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. Thus, both take-off and landing require backward skating. The double and triple salchow jumps require power and speed for execution ergo backward skating is essential for performing the jump. The salchow jump is also performed quite often by figure skaters in their performances, consequently giving the impression that figure skaters skate backward more than they skate forwards.
The loop jump is the type of edge jump and it is somewhat similar to a toe loop. The only difference between the loop jump and the toe loop is that it does not require the toe pick. In the loop jump, the skater takes off from the back outside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the same leg. Hence, for this maneuver as well, rearward skating is more prominent than the forward skating. The triple loop jump is the most difficult version of this maneuver.
The Flip Jump
The flip jump is also one of the moves that requires a backward glide for both take-off and landing. This jump is a bit similar to the toe loop jump, the only difference is that the landing in the flip jump is on the opposite foot. The take-off in the flip jump initiates from the back inside edge and lands on the other foot. The basic flip jump usually has one complete rotation but, the professional figure skaters attempt up to three complete rotations in a single flip jump. For the build-up of this jump, the skaters usually have an exaggerated glide to finish off the jump more attractively, the glide after the jump is also usually lengthy. As a result, the figure skater seems to skate more backward than forward.
The Lutz Jump
The lutz jump is also one of the jumps that begins with skating backward. The take-off starts from the back outside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. The lutz jump is similar to the flip, the only difference is that in the lutz jump the take-off starts from the outside edge, and in the flip jump the take-off begins with the inside edge. Again in this jump, as both take-off and landing are carried out skating backwards, the forward skating becomes obscure and frivolous.
Why Figure Skaters Prefer Skating Backwards Than Skating Forwards?
You hardly have seen figure skaters gliding forward in their performances in a competition. And if you have ever noticed that, it would have been at the end of their act. One of the reasons is that skating backwards looks more appealing and captivating to the eyes. It helps keep the spectators and audience engaged in the act. Simultaneously, it also helps the skaters to build-up for the next maneuver. The reason why skating backwards looks alluring is that it looks to be a difficult skill to perform, as it is in fact, and it increases adrenaline rush among the crowd.
The main reason for the figure skaters skating backward is that it generates more power and speed than skating forwards. The toe picks in the front of the blade, with their curved sawlike teeth, provide strength to the skater when attempting certain spins and moves. But, the toe picks restrict the speed when a figure skater skates forward. Consequently, it does not help in generating power and strength into the jumps while skating forward. Therefore, most of the jumps begin with a backward skate as these moves need to have propelled power and pace so they can be completed perfectly. Figure skaters can not skate forward at a very high velocity as they could stumble down due to the toe picks. This is not the case when you skate backwards. The skater has much more of a blade to use when skating backwards, hence skaters can generate more speed. Another reason is that it easier to balance the body when you are gliding and skating backwards, but it sometimes becomes a daunting task to balance while skating forward. Therefore, every jump in figure skating ends up skating backwards as you need to balance yourself after swift spins high in the air.
As mentioned above, in competition, figure skaters attempt difficult jumps in order to get more points, and these jumps often begin with skating backward. The main portion of the performance of a figure skater consists of different jumps that start and end with the skater skating rearwards. Even though skaters do skate forwards, most of the time it goes unnoticed.
Apart from one, there is no jump in the figure skating sports in which the skater has to skate forward. And there is not a single jump that ends up skating forward. Therefore, the viewers hardly remember skaters gliding forward as it is not part of their main performance. Even spins end up skating backward and some of the most difficult performances consist of spins such as the biellmann spin, which requires great flexibility and strength, end up backwards.
Therefore, these moves leave a mark in the mind of the audience and they only remember things related to it. So, the main reason why skating forward goes unnoticed is that the spectators and observers do not relate to it. They do not link any memory with the part of the act of figure skaters when they skate forward, because no spectacular jump or spin is linked with it. As a result, people notice and remember backward skating only.
Although skating backwards is a difficult skill to learn as a novice, once you learn it becomes easy to manoeuvre. This is the reason, most figure skaters feel more comfortable and skating becomes effortless for them. For most of the figure skaters, a backward crossover is easier than the forward crossover. The main reason is that the backward crossover generates extra power and speed than the forward crossover. The first step off to the side before the cross can be broader than the forward crossover, so it gives that extra pace and strength.
Figure skaters look intriguing and charming skating backwards, as no exciting maneuver is linked with skating forwards. Most of the jumps begin backwards and all the jumps and spins end up in the same direction. There is hardly anyone who remembers a skater going forwards. If they do skate forward, they lose the crowd engagement and excitement because it does not look much appealing. In many competitions, skaters are required to perform certain moves so, they end up skating backward more than they skate forwards. And for executing difficult jumps and spins, it is imperative to skate backward to carry out the moves such as the lutz jump and the flip.
Credits for the Swedish Figure Skating Association for the stage pictures for the jumps, which can be found in more detail here – 4 common ice skating jumps
Credit too for Romy Davies Jeans (Instagram) for her beautiful videos which are the icing on the cake for this article. You can read our dedicated article on Romy here – Being The Parents of a Figure Skater- Romy Davies Jeans