Thursday, March 16, 2006

 

To point or to flex

Midori Ito: follow me!
Ever since Midori Ito burst upon the international skating scene with her high wrap and incredible jumping powers over twenty years ago, I noticed something different about the way many Japanese skaters land their jumps. Watch them during the world championships–instead of stretching their free leg and pointing the foot upon landing a jump, they will land with the free leg low, the free foot flexed so that the inside edge of the boot is parallel to the ice. When I first saw Midori do it, I yelled at the television, “She doesn’t point her foot when she lands!” Slowly, watching more and more Japanese skaters do this, I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve often wondered if it was a matter of technique, a matter of style, or both. Sometimes, it consumes my imagination, and I try to think of feasible explanations for this choice. Could it simply be a matter of quirky Japanese aesthetics, or is it something less subtle?

Now, not all of the Japanese skaters do it, but Shizuka Arakawa, Yukari Nakano and Yuka Sato display the classic flexed foot landing style to a tee. They have all been coached by Nobuo and Kumiko Sato (Yuka’s folks), so perhaps the style comes from that powerful Japanese skating family. Midori Ito, however, was, as far as I know, not coached by the Satos (like almost every other Japanese champion has been), so off I go looking for another explanation.

Mao Asada, if I’m remembering correctly from watching her in the Grand Prix finals, employs a more stretched-and-pointed landing style, so for a while I considered the fact that the flexed-foot style was a way of adjusting the classic technique to look better on women who had legs that were short in comparison to their bodies. (Living in Japan in 1990-91, I learned that the Japanese have a derisive phrase for this body type: “daikon legs.”) Then I noticed that Fumie Suguri uses the flexed-foot style, and she’s about as willowy and long-legged as they come, so that theory became history.

The most likely explanation, I think, is that this landing style was a quirk of Midori Ito’s, and that Ito is SUCH an icon for EVERY Japanese skater that her idiosyncracy quickly spread through the figure skating world like a virus until it became common practice.

Still, I wonder. If anyone out there with inside knowledge of the Japanese figure skating world can shed any light on this subject for me, I would greatly appreciate it. Meanwhile, I will continue to waywardly gather further statistics on this minor, but compelling, phenomenon as I watch the Japanese team attempt to sweep the World Championships next week.

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