No Delawareans are competing in the Winter Olympics starting this week, but the First State still has a connection to the 2018 games. Some of the U.S. figure skaters battling for gold in South Korea have sharpened their skills at University of Delaware during their careers.
Over the last decade, dozens of competitive figure skaters and Olympic hopefuls have visited the University of Delaware’s ice rinks for a brief assessment of their jumping skills. UD biomechanics professor Jim Richards from the university's Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, says researchers can tell by a figure skater’s position in the air whether or not they are going to land.
"The primary reason for skaters failing to land a given jump is due primarily to what they were doing in the air, not on the ice,” Richards said.
When a figure skater comes in for a two-three hour training session, Richards puts reflective markers on their clothes. He uses 10 high speed cameras to track the markers at 250 frames per second – monitoring a skater’s position, speed and how long they spend in the air.
“The instant they leave the ice they’re not spinning very fast,” Richards said. “They start spinning faster after they leave the ice by pulling their body into a tighter position. We look for how long it takes them to do that and typically we would expect that to happen in less than one revolution.”
Richards then takes the data and recreates a skater’s position in the air with a mathematical model. It shows them what the jump would look like if they changed their position. The figure skaters and their coaches leave with video files showing the original model of what the skater's jump actually looked like, the recreated model and a report card of the assessment.
"The changes we recommend aren’t something they can just say ‘oh I get it’ and go out and do. It takes them a while to implement them,” Richards said. “...What’s going to happen when they make those changes is they’re going to spin a lot faster, and they’re not used to that.”
This Olympics, Richards says he’ll be on the edge of his seat. He has worked with five of the six U.S. athletes competing in single skating.
The 2018 Winter Olympics kicks off Friday, Feb. 9.