Some biased thoughts from a figure skater on artistic roller skating
I’ve been a figure skater for 17 years, so when I learned that one of the sports competing at these Pan American Games was artistic roller skating — figure skating on wheels, I was told — I had to check it out.
(Apparently, Canadian and World champion Elvis Stojko was thinking the same thing. Stojko, who lives in a small village outside of Guadalajara, was in the stands today to watch the event.)
What can I say about this sport…
Athletically, it is impressive. But I can’t say I really understand why anyone living in a country with ice rinks would bother.
Artistic roller skaters look like figure skaters. They wear the same beige tights. Exact same dresses. The same hair style. The same make up. They try the same elements. There are loop jumps, flips, Axels, Lutz jumps, toe loops and Salchows. I saw camel spins, some sit spins and spirals. But eeek. The sport lacks everything that makes figure skating so spectacular. And it’s not the athletes’ fault. It’s a consequence of their equipment.
Allow me to geek out for a moment. And obviously I’m incredibly biased.
Figure skaters are mesmerizing to watch because they appear to defy gravity. They’re able to do this because blades cut into the ice, biting into the edge. This allows skaters to sink low and lean into their circle creating impressive angles. With that grip and speed, ice skaters can form long lines with their bodies, stretching their free leg high, pointing their toe and turning out from the hip.
On roller skates, the skaters have to stand pretty upright to keep balance. Wheels just roll on the surface. There’s nothing to sink into to. Subsequently, skaters cross their feet with near straight legs. And without the centrifugal force of a deep edge, they can’t sink, or lean or stretch. The skating looks awkward and rigid.
In figure skating there are edge jumps and toe jumps, but really, almost every skating jump takes off from the toe, whether that’s because the pick is pounded into the ice and the skater vaults off of it — like in a Lutz or flip jump — or the skater gently rolls off the toe as the free leg swings through for momentum — like the Axel or Salchow. When the skater lands, the first point of contact is ideally the toe. Then the blade will ease onto the ice, keeping flow and speed.
On roller skates, the athletes slow down before the jump, launching off a rubber stop. They shoot straight into the air then land with a very loud thud. There is no flow and without speed, there’s no extension, meaning the free leg just kind of hangs there. All the wheels hit the concrete at the same time for, presumably, balance. The ideal landing in roller skating is a sloppy one in figure skating.
The spins in roller skating are impressive, no doubt. Skaters rotate on their heels, or shift weight between two wheels. But the types of spins are very limited and it’s impossible to keep momentum going, so they get slow and wobbly. In figure skating, a good skater picks up speed as they spin. And because of a slight curve on the blade called a rocker, skaters can keep control and move their bodies into all kinds of shapes.
Again, I’m not trying to take away from the athleticism and skill required in this sport. I can’t roller skate to save my life. And I have NO idea how you would jump off of or spin on wheels. And ice is forgiving. Once you learn how to fall, wiping out on a jump doesn’t have to hurt when the ice catches you and slides you along. In roller skating you hit solid earth. Those were tough competitors I watched today.
I guess the problem for me is that this sport seemed to be trying so hard to look like and be like figure skating, but they are completely different. The sport should be going after elements that figure skaters can’t do — like spinning on the heel.
Because if you’re stuck comparing the two, which you inevitably do watching a roller skating competition, blade beats wheel every time.
Meeting Elvis Stojko has been a highlight of the Games for me so far.