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Physics in figure skating

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“You have to do the opposite of what people expect. How else will you surprise them?”-Victor from the Japanese Anime Yuri on Ice. As the quote depicts sometimes to learn and enjoy something more you have to do the unexpected. This chance to explore one of my favorite sports through physics and connect to even more things I enjoy like animation and personal anecdotes in an essay has been one of the most enjoyable experiences and by far the most unexpected. This was the beginning of my discovery of figure skating and I figured what is the most unexpected thing than to start off with an anime description? Yuri on Ice is an anime that debuted in 2016 about the sport of figure skating not only did it introduce figure skating in a new light for me but as my favorite character uttered those words I was enraptured by the sport. The sentence may not have meant to be a description of figure skating but to countless people that was what it was.

The two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu or the youngest member of the U.S Olympic team Nathan Chen both contributed to my love for figure skating as they jumped and twirled in the air defying what I thought scientifically was impossible. Figure skating simply is a Winter Olympic sport that combines spins and jumps in the air going by several fancy names like double or triple Axels, Salchow, Toe loops and the Lutz. Those are the most common jumps or names you might hear but just because they are common does not mean they are easy nor can they be explained by basic techniques alone. To truly understand the beauty or complexity of figure skating, the science of physics can be applied to not only illustrate the effect or impact of the jumps but entertain the notion that for the brevity of a moment humans could defy gravity. 5 or more Physics Concepts that changed my understanding of Figure Skating: Velocity in physics is a vector quantity that combines the amount of speed in a given direction. In figure skating, those directions are vertical and horizontal. When a skater jumps, the vertical velocity is affected by gravity so the skater eventually touches the ground but continues to move at a constant horizontal velocity even afterwards.

According to Brad Orr, a physics professor at the University of Michigan , those two velocities coexist independently hence the ability for a pair of skaters to move and one to be thrown in the air and be caught at the same place the second partner skated to horizontally. Gravity is a concept not only in physics but in multiple sciences. However, it plays a big role in skating because when skaters do lifts or jumps, they eventually touch the ground or fall due to the pull of Gravity. However, when spinning multiple times in the air they defy gravity just a moment longer which is dangerous as well as graceful due to training and that is where the fascination comes from. A projectile of a parabola occurs when skaters jump and spin forming an arc that can be reminiscent of a parabola. They become projectiles or both vertical and horizontal in motion. Another concept that this brings to mind is the Friction required to maintain balance between the skates and the ground that allows the skater to slow down if they were going at a higher speed. However, when they spin they are off the ground and barely have any friction.

One question that remains unanswered and is the reason skating is enamored by many is how they stably spin or jump in air? One of the major concepts able to alleviate some of the curiosity is Angular momentum. Although, this is a much more advanced concept in physics I felt the need to include it and learn something new. When a figure skater spins they have to apply force to the ice so they can be able spin in the air which is considered angular momentum as it relates to skating. When they reduce the distance between for example their outstretched arms their velocity increases because a change in rotational inertia has occurred. Inertia is a force of motion that states that an object in motion will stay in motion. However, rotational inertia is the resistance to rotation of an object. It also relates to mass and its distance along that rotational axis because the skater pulls their arm closer when spinning they decrease that radius or distance needed to lower their rotational inertia so to compensate they can spin faster because their velocity increases to maintain that angular momentum. Essentially, figure skating has always been a mystery to me and as I conducted research to compile a list of physics concepts that could combine my favorite subject of science with the beautiful sport of figure skating. I think it led me to learn far more advanced concepts in physics then where I am currently. It has been a mind boggling experience to learn that such spins can be understood more intricately through the use of science.

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