Time for a skate update: What to watch for in Sochi

American Gracie Gold will likely compete for the U.S. in the debut of team figure skating at the Olympics in Sochi. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)
American Gracie Gold will likely compete for the U.S. in the debut of team figure skating at the Olympics in Sochi. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

Haven’t ice-skated in a few years (or decades)? You’re bound to feel a bit wobbly when you enter a rink again. The same goes for watching the sport. Take four years off from spectating and you might forget that the point isn’t to see athletes in sequins fall on a slippery surface. Here are a few pointers to help you better understand the competition — and the commentary — that’s coming up at the Winter Olympics in Sochi beginning Thursday.

The Spin-Off: A triple jump used to be enough to impress a crowd. Not anymore, says Adam Munday, a coach with the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy in Maryland, who promises that “quads are going to be the big thing.” Guys will be pretty much expected to land at least one of the technically and physically demanding moves to be a medal contender. (There’s still lingering controversy from the Vancouver Games four years ago, when American Evan Lysacek won gold without a quad.) For the ladies, it’s all about nailing “triple-triples” — two triple jumps in a row.

Do all jumps look the same to you? That’s because the differences are mainly a matter of foot position as the skater launches into the air. The outlier is the axel, which is the only competition jump performed with a forward entrance. The easiest variation of this is the waltz jump. “You take off of one leg, do a half rotation, and land on other leg backwards,” Munday says. “It doesn’t take years of training.” If you really want to try a trick at your local rink, that’s the move he recommends.

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, six-time national champions, are favorites for gold in ice dance.
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, six-time national champions, are favorites for gold in ice dance.

Dance Chance: Team USA’s best hope to reach the top of a podium this year is in ice dancing, where Meryl Davis and Charlie White are expected to dominate. The six-time national champs snagged the silver in Vancouver. Lori Cervinka, skating director at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, notes that Davis and White’s choreographer is “Dancing With the Stars” champ Derek Hough. His name recognition could lead to even more mainstream attention for the pair’s performance.

One word you should know before binge-watching ice dance: twizzle. It’s a one-legged turn that makes a “3” shape on the ice, Cervinka says. And it’s a critical element for ice dancers, who are judged on how well they synchronize their twizzles. Viewers should not confuse the word “twizzle” with “swizzle,” which refers to a simple way of traveling across the ice by alternating between pushing out your heels and toes.

Team Effort: These Winter Games mark the debut of the team figure skating event, says Kevin Sidwell, skating director at the Cabin John Ice Rink in Rockville. That may not be what you think it sounds like.

The members of a team won’t all be on the ice simultaneously — instead, it’ll be individual men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dancing performances. The scores will be added up to determine the winner. But even that is a nice change of pace in what’s normally such an individual sport, Sidwell says.

And if you really like the idea of synchronized skating, well, that’s a real thing, Sidwell adds. But it’s not at the Olympics — yet. In the Washington area, the groups DC Edge (dcedgesynchro.org) and Capitol Steps (capitol-steps.org) offer teams for children and adults.

Icebreakers

Cabin John Ice Rink (10610 Westlake Drive, Rockville; 301-765-8620, cabinjohnice.com) is celebrating the Olympics with daily events or deals starting Thursday with games and crafts (4:30-6:15 p.m.). On Friday, in honor of the opening ceremony, wear a hockey, figure or speedskating outfit and skate at a public session for $3.50. For more events, see website.

National Capital Curling Center (13810 Old Gunpowder Road, Laurel, Md.; curldc.org) invites anyone curious about the sport to come on down to the ice and try it. There are two Olympics-pegged open houses: Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and Feb. 16, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. It’s $10 for individuals, $20 for families. Sign up online to ensure you have a time slot.

Canal Park Ice Rink (202 M St. SE; 202-554-6051, canalparkdc.org) hosts the DC ICE Winter Olympics speed-skating viewing party on Feb. 12. It starts with a skate session on the rink between 4 and 6 p.m.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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