Tuesday, March 21, 2006


As the Worlds spin

Lucinda Ruh atwirl
Now that the World Championships are underway, I curse the rigamarole of the international airwaves and politics of broadcast scheduling for the delay we lowly television viewers are made to endure; and I look forward to what I will see. Funnily, after many years of being a jump connoisseur above all else, I am dreamy with anticipation to see the spins this year.

When I was a skater, I was a natural jumper and a terrible spinner, so I focused more on the former and never really mastered the latter. As a spectator, I first became obsessed with spins when I saw Denise Bielmann perform her future namesake for the first time in international competition. I remember thinking that she looked just like my toy gyroscope while it was spinning: a perfect blend of physics and beauty.

It was a long time before another spinner moved me as much as Bielmann did, and it turned out to be another Swiss skater: Lucinda Ruh, who brings tears to my eyes when she spins. I certainly wish I could see more of her, but she rarely performs in shows that are televised. Lucinda Ruh is such an astounding spinner that judges rewarded her with enormous points in the artistic half of the scoring back in the 6.0 days, even though she never landed many great triples and always had problems with her jumps in competition. I've never heard it discussed by those who have reported on the change in the figure skating scoring system, but the new system contains far more ways to reward outstanding spins than did the old one, and I believe this is due, in large part, to Lucinda Ruh.

Following in the Swiss spinning tradition, Stephane Lambiel twirled onto the scene a few years ago with a collection of moves and positions not before seen in the men's competition, and obviously inspired by Ruh, with her artist's eye for shape and architect's exactness of form. For a year or two, he ruled--at least in my estimation--as the top amateur spinner in the world.

And then the scoring rules changed, and everybody else realized that their spins would start counting for much more of their total scores, and got to work. During the recent Olympics, I was surprised to see that Lambiel was not only no better a spinner than the other men, but was actually outperformed, outpositioned and outcentered by the likes of Weir, Lysacek and Pluschenko. Aha, I thought, the Swiss have lost their edge--how exciting! In fact, I became so engrossed by the excellent spinning in the Olympic men's competition that I actually got bored when they had to make a round on the rink and pop off a jump. Okay, not quite, but I was amazed by the improvement in overall spinning quality and difficulty.

I was also amazed to see that the men had actually surpassed the ladies in spinning prowess. Watch closely during the Worlds, and you may see what I mean. Then again, you may disagree. You may think NO man could ever match Sasha Cohen's elegant positions and precise centering. But then you may see SHAWN SAWYER skate for Canada during the men's event, and perhaps you'll agree with me that he is quickly becoming the best spinner in the entire field, and the only one who even closely approximates Lucinda Ruh's famed velocity. What's so exciting is that Sawyer is really just a tad ahead of the rest of the pack. If you haven't yet become a spinning fan, take a good close look at how they whirl at the Worlds--and then see if you can figure out the level and points for each one without letting your head spin.

The World Championships will be broadcast on ESPN March 23-26. See the schedule here.

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