Wednesday, May 29, was the on-ice day of the PSA conference, when most classes took place on the two sheets at the Las Vegas Ice Gardens. It was also the day my work caught up with me, so I spent most of the time telecommuting from my hotel room, and only caught one session: Double loop and triple lutz, with Carol Heiss Jenkins and Joan Gruber. Unfortunately, I had to miss Igor Shpilband's dance sessions, although the gorgeous swooping I glimpsed from them looked brilliant. Perhaps someone who attended those could fill us in.
Heiss Jenkins teaches the loop from a three-turn entrance. She likes to teach the single loop on a curve. Going straight, she said, means you have to create the edge when it's time for takeoff. She has the skater approach with hardly any weight on the right leg, as in "an old-fashioned swizzle," and then put weight on the leg once the right foot is underneath them. The thighs must stay together; "the moment the thighs are apart, it's lost," she warned. The left leg leans just a little bit into the circle, or you'll get a wrap. The loop is a jump that has a sweet spot, she said, so if you hit it on takeoff, the jump just goes up.
She asked Joan Gruber how judges feel about loop takeoffs in which you can see a little "flag" or three-turn tracing. The three-turn is a cheat, since it's already turned before takeoff. Gruber called the double loop a jump that is "just ripe for deductions," especially if it starts or lands on two feet, but the cheats can be hard to detect. However, anyone on a two-foot takeoff will have a "terrible time" getting the edge, since they may lean forward, wrap, or get their weight incorrectly between their feet. Sometimes on a triple loop, there will be a little flag tracing, when the edge comes underneath the skater and they do a little turn on the toe -- that is okay.
Gruber said that when she was first judging, she was told that if she saw a wrap, she saw a cheat. This is not strictly true, since the tracing is correct, but as Frank Carroll said when appealed to, "The feet don't cheat, but your body cheats -- 3/4 or 1/2 a turn around." A wrap usually causes a glitch on the landing, since the free leg is so far to the right, and the skater's body is to the left, preventing that nice straight landing on the toe. However, Gruber said that wraps are so common that most judges don't mark it down at the lower levels. At the higher levels, it is definitely something that detracts from the skater.
Heiss Jenkins was asked if a wrap can be untaught, and she said yes. She has sometimes used weights on the free foot to help the skater learn to correct it.
Priscilla Hill got unanimous applause when she said that she tries to prevent little kids from wrapping and won't let them use that kind of cheat in competition. But then they try to do the elements correctly and miss them in competition, while other kids have a wrapped leg and get scored ahead of them. The parents see this and lose faith in the coach's approach. "We're trying to fix it," Hill said of the wrap, "and the judges are placing them ahead -- what the heck is going on?"
Gruber replied that it is just a matter of educating the judges, and added that she loved that someone agreed with her that a wrap is essentially a cheat.
Some brave demonstrators then did their double loops so their various deductions could be observed and discussed. Heiss Jenkins expressed her gratitude toward them -- it's a hard job, knowing your flaws will be dissected by an Olympic gold medalist in front of everybody.
There was some discussion of double or triple loops preceded by footwork. Is it adequate just to do double threes into the jump? The answer is yes, although Frank Carroll said to make it interesting, he might ask a skater to do a turn in each direction instead. The loop is a difficult jump for a footwork entry, especially when you're trying to get the steps close enough to the takeoff, but Gruber said if you must make a choice, it is better to take the 0.1 deduction for not doing steps into the jump than to take the greater deductions for concentrating too much on footwork and then missing the jump entirely.
Discussion of the triple lutz was dominated by the elephant in the living room: the long-running flutz controversy. The judges and spectators concentrate so much on that one deduction that sometimes other errors go unnoticed. For example, Heiss Jenkins brought up the picking toe on the lutz. Sometimes, she said, you'll see the toe go back and turn, and the skater is on a forward inside edge before they leave the ice. "A lot of people are going to miss that," Gruber acknowledged, "because we're so busy watching for the change of edge. But if it's caught, it's a deduction."
Someone asked if there is a difference in scoring for a triple lutz that's crammed into a corner three feet away from the wall, versus one that goes right down the center of the ice with room to spare. Gruber said no, that a jump completed is a jump completed; but the mark may be lowered for presentation, if the flowout is affected or the second jump has problems because there's no room after the first.
It was interesting to hear that the coaches had the same nitpicky questions that we spectators do. How can you get skaters to work seriously on a proper lutz edge, if flutzes are winning the short program? Is an outside-edge flip going to be the next big controversy? (Gruber couldn't say, but did warn that she takes off for repeat triples if a skater is essentially doing three flips or three lutzes.) It was clear to me from this session, and from others I attended last year, that the USFSA coaches and judges need and want to spend much, much more time talking to each other, asking and answering questions, getting on the same page, and learning from each other.
After this session was over, I looked over to the other ice surface, where the usual Las Vegas skaters were doing their public skating. Surya Bonaly was doing a bunch of triple salchows. Jered Guzman was working on his triples, although hampered by a painful hip and lower back injury from a fall. He did triple toe loops and salchows, but not the triple loops and lutzes he'd been landing before he got injured.
I got to talk to Guzman later that day. He's been working to stay in shape while he searches for a new partner, and has been excited at how well things are going -- he recently attained his goal of landing a triple loop and a triple lutz on the same day. He is supporting himself by teaching lessons, and getting his schedule worked out so he can find another job. I think he's been practicing choreography, too, although that is something that seems to come to him so naturally that he doesn't think to mention it. His musical sense is generally sharp. He's never had music lessons and can't read music, but he was telling me that he recently experimented to find out if he could learn to play the "Chariots of Fire" theme on the piano by ear, and succeeded. I think his combination of pure power and dance instinct make him possibly the best male pair skater the U.S. has, and I hope he finds a partner who can match him.