Understanding Olympic Figure Skating: A GIF Guide To Spins
Camel, Biellmann, Scratch? Here's your go-to guide to understanding figure skating spins.
By far, the most-hyped Winter Olympics event is figure skating. The drama, politics, and scandal that has wracked this sport since the beginning keeps skaters, die-hard fans and casual viewers glued to their televisions Olympics after Olympics. One thing that has stayed constant over the years is the confusion that non-skaters have about the different elements that skaters perform. The most common question I've gotten as a figure skater is by far: "Can you do a triple Salchow?" First of all, the answer is certainly no--triple jumps (rotating 3 times in the air) are among the hardest elements in all of skating. Second, not all jumps are a Salchow. The second most common question I've gotten: "What's a camel spin?" Below are some of the basic spins that are performed either solo or in combination:
The first spin that a skater learns, the scratch spin is ironically one of the hardest spins in all of figure skating. This is due to the speed that a veteran skater has when entering the spin, and the difficulty of "centering" the spin so it doesn't travel–in muggle, non-skater terms, making sure the spin stays in one spot on the ice as the skater rotates, rather than moving across the ice. The more a skater moves, the less balanced they are, causing the spin to slow, and making it more difficult for the skater to hold the spin.
Sit spins are the next spin that a skater learns. They are relatively easy to center, and with increased flexibility, the skater can sit lower to the ice, increasing difficulty. In higher levels of competition, skaters perform sit spins either in combination, or as we'll see later, in a "flying" spin.
The camel spin is arguably the most difficult spin to learn at first, because the center of gravity is completely different from the previous spins. A camel spin not only requires flexibility, but the ability to maintain control when entering the spin by slowly rising from a slight knee-bend into the full extended position that we can see in the .gif above. Camel spins are often a favorite of pairs skating teams, because if done in perfect unison, they add an unparalleled aesthetic quality to the program. Camel spins are often converted into "catch-foot" or "doughnut" spins, in which the skater bends the knee of the free leg and is able to grab on to it, creating a more difficult position.
Once the three spins of camel, scratch, and sit spin are mastered, skaters learn how to "fly" into them. Flying spins are when a skater actually leaves the ice in the entrance into the spin. The flying spin can also be in a variety of positions, but usually the sit spin and camel spin are the "base" movements, with some alteration in arm and free-leg (the leg not spinning on the ice) position.
The layback spin is likely the most iconic spin in all of figure skating, and perhaps even the most iconic element. Typically only performed by female skaters, the layback is actually a scratch spin in disguise. The skater begins the spin by centering themselves on their standing leg while spinning for a couple rotations, and then arches her back while using her arms to maintain balance. Depending on flexibility, the skater can then grab their free leg and switch positions to the Biellmann (seen below).
The Biellmann spin is by far the most difficult spin on this list. It requires unparalleled flexibility, balance, and muscle control. Only skaters experienced with the layback spin, and who are flexible enough are able to perform this spin, which also justifies the ISU's high number of points awarded when this spin is successfully completed.