2000 World Artistic Roller Skating Championships

Day 1: Junior Free Skates

The format for the World Artistic Roller Skating Championships which are being held this month in Springfield, MA is that the junior competitions are held the first week, senior the second week, with precision sandwiched in between as a one-day event. I spent the entire day on the first Saturday watching the free skates for junior men, ladies, and pairs.

I want to start out with a disclaimer: I know that roller skaters use different terminology for some moves, but my background is in ice skating and most of the people who are likely to read this also come from an ice skating background, so I'm going to call things by their more familiar ice skating names.

I also can't claim that I know very much about the rules of competitive roller skating. There is basically nothing in the program booklet, the competition organizers didn't put together any kind of media guide (I asked), and they aren't selling rulebooks.

What I was able to discover about the scoring is this. They judge on a 10.0 scale instead of a 6.0 scale, there are two marks (for "technical merit" and "artistic impression", although I do not know whether there are specific technical criteria covered in the second mark such as there are in ice skating). The scoring system seems to be some variant of OBO (the results sheets show ordinals and "victories"). And, they seem to use the system that was in place in ice skating prior to 1981 for combining the results of the short and long programs -- instead of adding together factored placements, the results sheets show the overall ordinals for the whole competition.

And, here's one rules innovation I hope doesn't make its way into ice skating. For both the men's and ladies' free skates, they divided the fields into two groups. All the lower-ranked skaters after the short program (both ladies and men) had to do their long programs in the afternoon session, several hours before the final two warm-up groups got to skate in the main event during the evening session. It seems to me that this is not really fair for the skaters. Amazingly, though, one of the junior men from the afternoon session managed to pull up to 4th place overall with a solid free skate.

First some general comments about the technical level of the skaters. These were juniors, not seniors, and there was quite a wide range of skills represented in both the men's and ladies' divisions. There were some skaters in the early groups who did not have all their double jumps -- but you see this in ice skating, too. The most advanced ladies were doing triple salchow and sometimes triple toe, while there were guys doing triple lutzes in the final group of men.

How does artistic roller skating at this level compare to ice skating? Well, the most visible difference is that the roller skaters seem to be a lot more theatrical in their costuming and presentation -- some of the outfits the guys were wearing, in particular, would be considered completely outrageous by ice standards. I took lots of photos of the more entertaining ones... check them out.

In terms of the jumps, the big difference was in the types of jump combinations that skaters do. For instance, on ice, a fairly standard jump combination for juniors would be a double lutz/double toe, but virtually none of the roller skaters used a toe loop in combination, and it was rare to see them do two double or triple jumps back-to-back. Instead, their standard combinations would go something like double lutz/loop/loop/half loop/double flip. The toe loop was done more commonly as a solo jump -- it actually took me a while to catch this, because they use a different entrance than ice skaters (from a long backward glide instead of a forward approach into a three turn), and because a lot of the roller skaters tended to do "toe axels" as well. Also, many of the roller skaters showed a horrendous leg wrap on their jumps -- for the most part, these were not the skaters who were doing triples.

Spins on roller skates are also very different than on ice. The "standard" spin on roller skates is a camel spin, not an upright spin, and all spins, both forward and back, are entered from a travelling camel or by cranking a series of 3-turns with the free leg swinging wide. Flying spins seem to be completely unheard of in roller skating. In terms of positions, they do forward and back camel, more rarely a sit spin (not all skaters included a sit spin in their programs), and everyone -- both men and ladies -- did what they call a "layback", which is what ice skaters would call a layover camel. It is a back spin in a position like a face-up camel, with the back deeply arched and the free leg extended in front (see the photos if this description doesn't make any sense). The ice-style layback spin was completely absent, as were all of the catch-leg and cross-foot positions that ice skaters do (with the exception of one lady who did a brief back spin in Biellmann position). What the roller skaters do instead is vary the way they use their skate within the camel spins -- they do one variant called a "heel camel" where they spin on the back two wheels only, and another one where they spin on the inside two wheels only.

Anyway, what it boils down to is this, for spins. Most of the junior skaters were doing two or three spins in their programs. One would be a spin combination, which for the less advanced skaters was just a change-foot camel, but the more advanced ones would do something like a forward heel camel into a sit spin with a change of foot into a layover. One would probably be a layover by itself entered directly from a back camel, and they might also do another forward camel spin with some variation on it.

In spite of all the emphasis on camel spins, incidentally, I noticed that quite a number of the skaters (both male and female) had really ugly camel positions -- droopy free legs, etc.

Here are some photos and comments on the actual competition.

Day 2: Senior Ladies and Men

I went to the Friday evening session that featured the second half of the senior ladies free skate (top 10 after the short) and the senior men's short program.

I've been told that the official name for the layback/layover spin is "inverted spin", and that it, the heel camel, and the broken-ankle camel are considered "Class A" spins. I gathered that the required elements for the men's short program were: a Class A spin, a spin combination, a combination of 3 to 5 jumps, a double axel, a toe jump, and a straight-line footwork sequence.

All of the senior competitors I saw were attempting and landing triple jumps, but among the lower-ranked competitors there were a lot of cheated or two-footed landings, step-outs, and the like. It looked to me that some of the skaters were bouncing out of the first triple jump in a combination into a loop or half loop to disguise the fact that they couldn't hold or check the landing -- you see this occasionally on ice, too.

Another peculiarity I noticed was that several skaters had a really visible habit of pre-rotating all their toe jumps. On ice we see this with some skaters doing "toe axels" instead of a toe loop, but a few of the roller skaters I saw were doing something similar with their flips and lutzes as well -- they were stepping onto the toe, prerotating, and then jumping, instead of planting the toe and popping off both feet together. I do believe that the skaters who were doing this were getting penalized for it in the marking, compared to those who had better jump mechanics.

The senior men weren't attempting triple axels; the jump combination of choice for the top competitors was either triple lutz/half loop/triple flip or triple lutz/half loop/triple salchow, neither of which I've ever seen done on ice. Several of the top ladies were doing triple lutz and flip as well, but the triple loop was notably absent. I think it must be comparatively more difficult than the toe jumps, than it is on ice. Interestingly enough, though, I also saw several skaters miss entrances to their toe jumps when their "pick" (the rubber toe stop) slipped on the floor, so even the toe jumps look a bit tricky on wheels!

Here are some photos and comments from Friday night's events.

Day 3: Senior Men and Free Dance

Saturday's events were the senior men's free skate, and the free dance. I arrived about midway through the lower groups of men who had to skate in the afternoon session, then after a break they had the free dance and the rest of the men. Sandwiched in between they also had an exhibition by the Italian team who had won the pairs competition on Thursday night, Beatrice Palazzi Rossi and Patrick Venerucci.

I have to say some rude things about the management at the Springfield Civic Center here. The tickets for this event were sold as general admission seating but for some reason they weren't letting people into the arena until 15 minutes or so before things were scheduled to start Saturday evening. By that time, a huge mob had already gathered in the concourse, resulting in a mad scramble for seats and people getting jostled and trampled -- I was very nearly knocked backwards down the aisle myself. There would've been absolutely no need for that mob scene if they'd started letting people in as they arrived, half an hour earlier or so.

Roller dancing seems to be following many of the same trends as ice dance, but without the technical requirements that the ISU has introduced to keep the focus on sport rather than theatrics. There were a few couples who did ballroom-type programs, but there were others who skated to classical music or movie scores that would probably not be acceptable on ice because of the requirement for the music to have an obvious rhythm and beat. And, some of the couples were so over-dramatic in their presentation that I found it getting pretty cheesy. Interestingly enough, the American couples were the worst offenders! In ice dance the US couples are always pretty conservative compared to the Europeans.

There were still no triple axels attempted in the men's free skate, but all three of the medallists turned in very fine performances and I found a lot of things to like in what some of the lower-ranked skaters were doing as well.

One thing I noticed for both ladies and men is that there's less emphasis on footwork and field moves in the free skate. It was pretty rare to see skaters doing spirals, spread eagles, or other big, swoopy edge moves. It was also rare to see skaters doing jumps out of a footwork entrance -- in fact, many of them seemed to use a very deliberate, slow, set-up. In addition, I was told that the rule regarding repeating jumps is that the skaters can't do a jump more than three times, and some of them did seem to be attempting three lutzes or three flips. As a result, I kind of felt that many of the programs had a lack of variety, and consisted of too much just skating around to set up the jumps, compared to what I'm used to seeing on ice.

Finally, a few observations on costuming. The male roller skaters really seem to be into having outfits with scarves, floppy sleeves, capes, and various other scraps of fabric flying in the breeze. Loose tunics seem to be very fashionable. Check out the photos for examples.

Here are the links to the photo pages for Saturday.

A final note

Various roller-skating people who have been reading my notes from the competition have apparently taken offense that an ice skating person would dare to criticize their sport. Let me point out here that I am a former roller skater myself, although I never skated at more than a recreational level. As a child I took learn-to-skate classes on roller skates years before I ever had any formal instruction on ice skates. Later on, after I graduated from college and moved to an area that didn't have a year-round ice rink, I took up roller skating again and got to the point where I was attempting more or less the same elements on roller skates that I was doing on ice skates (which, at that time, included most of the single jumps). So, I actually do know something about the differences between ice and roller skating technique. (In fact, my experience was that the techniques transferred pretty easily, although roller skates did "feel" a bit different in terms of balance and the like.)

I hope both ice skaters and roller skaters can recognize that each can gain something by borrowing from the other discipline. Roller skaters might add more variety to their programs by borrowing some of the skills that are common in ice skating, but I also think it would be very nice to see ice skaters attempting some of the skills I saw the roller skaters do -- inverted spins, or some of the multi-jump combinations, for instance.

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