Just How Hard Is It to Execute a Triple Axel in Figure Skating?

Jamie Squire, Getty Images
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

In the 19th century, figure skating was a very literal term: Athletes were expected to carve elaborate figures into the ice while maintaining their physical composure. Before long, innovative skaters began adding jumps to their routines, and the difficult aerial maneuvers quickly became the focal points of the programs.

Norwegian speed skater Axel Paulsen invented the axel in 1882. Of the six types of jumps now performed in the sport, the axel is the only one in which a skater takes off in a forward motion. In a single axel, the skater builds momentum leading to the jump, takes off from one skate's forward outside edge, turns 1.5 times in the air, and lands backward on the opposite skate's outside edge. The landing foot absorbs impact forces of eight to 10 times the skater's body weight. A double axel demands 2.5 rotations; a triple, 3.5. (Landing a triple is worth 8.5 points in a skater’s base score, while a double is only 3.3 points.)

An axel is a required element in today's skating routines—you can't win a medal without it. The top male skaters land triple axels, while top female skaters do doubles. Just a handful of women have completed a triple axel in Olympic competition—Japanese skaters Midori Ito in 1992 and Mao Asada in 2010 and 2014, and now American skater Mirai Nagasu at the 2018 Winter Games.

To the untrained eye, it looks like the human version of spinning a coin on its side. But the physics, athleticism, and preparation involved make it one of the most difficult efforts in the Games.

To perfect a double or triple axel, athletes and their coaches need to pay attention to biomechanics. Inertia, or the degree to which their body mass is spread out in space, will affect how fast they can spin in the air. By contracting their body as much as possible, skaters increase their chances for faster rotational movement. They also need to pay attention to mass—specifically, that their competition attire doesn’t weigh them down any more than necessary. Nagasu’s team reduced the number of rhinestones and even factored in the weight of the glue used to make sure the skater wasn’t going to be slowed down by even a few extra ounces of weight.

In landing the triple axel, Nagasu has also defied traditional thinking about an inherent disadvantage for women: Because they tend to have wider hips and chests than men, contracting their bodies for rotation is more difficult.

Perceived limitations in sports—like the four-minute mile, long thought to be impossible—are often broken by determined athletes who overcome pessimism with practice. While many skaters performed single axels in the early 20th century, American gold medalist Dick Button pushed the envelope by landing the first double axel at the Winter Olympics in 1948. Canadian Vern Taylor landed the first triple axel at the 1978 World Figure Skating Championships. In the 21st century, the world's elite skaters are landing quadruple backward-takeoff jumps.

American Girl Doll Introduces Joss Kendrick, First Doll With a Hearing Aid

Mattel
Mattel

Meet Joss Kendrick, the surf-loving cheerleader who never lets her hearing loss get in the way of her goals. She’s American Girl’s 2020 Girl of the Year, and its first doll to flaunt a hearing aid.

First revealed on Good Morning America, the brown-haired, brown-eyed character was born with hearing loss so wears a hearing aid in her right ear. She grew up surfing in Huntington Beach, California, and after her brother dared her to try out for her school's competitive cheer team, she discovered that riding waves isn’t her only passion.

american girl doll joss kendrick
Mattel

“American Girl has a rich legacy of creating timeless characters who encourage girls to reach new heights and discover who they’re meant to be,” American Girl general manager/president Jamie Cygielman said in a press release. “We’re proud to welcome Joss Kendrick, whose stories are sure to instill confidence and character in girls who are learning to think about the possibilities in their own lives.”

To develop the doll, Mattel-owned American Girl teamed up with Women’s Deaf Shortboard champion Crystal DaSilva, Gallaudet University’s Dr. Sharon Pajka, who specializes in portrayals of deaf characters in adolescent literature, and several other experts in surfing, competitive cheerleading, and hearing loss.

And to promote Joss, American Girl is partnering with 17-year-old surfer Caroline Marks, who will make her Olympic debut this summer on the first-ever U.S. Women’s Olympic surfing team.

“I’m so excited to be a part of the Joss launch and share her message that passion and hard work can really take a girl places—even to the Olympics,” Marks said in the press release.

american girl doll joss kendrick
Mattel

American Girl has also donated $25,000 to the Hearing Loss Association of America and will continue to promote the organization’s events and mission throughout the year.

You can shop Joss’s collection—including surf attire, cheer attire, two books, and a plush English bulldog named Murph—now on the American Girl site.

[h/t Good Morning America]

Simone Biles Just Became the Most Decorated Female Gymnast in History

Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br

Simone Biles became a household name when she won four gold medals in gymnastics at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, she has proven that she's still among the best in the sport's history. At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Biles won her 21st world champ medal—making her the most decorated female gymnast of all time, The New York Times reports.

The U.S. women's team competed at the event in order to retain their title of best in the world. Biles racked up the highest individual scores with her vault, balance beam, and floor routines, helping the U.S. earn an overall score of 172.330 points. The team bested Russia, the second-place team, by 5.801 points and won their seventh consecutive gold at a world competition or Olympics.

Biles was previously tied with Svetlana Khorkina for most world championship medals held by a female gymnast. She now holds the record for the women's sport, and is just two medals shy of male gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's record of 23.

At 22, Simone Biles has already made a historic impact on the sport. In 2013, she had a difficult new floor exercise move named after her—a double layout with a 180-degree turn at the end.

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER