There is a right way – and a wrong way – to fall

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - SPORTS | REPORT ON BUSINESS - LORI EWING

Amere frac­tion of a sec­ond sep­a­rates land­ing a jump from crash­ing to the ice. And Pa­trick Chan can usu­ally sense when he’s about to go down.

As with any com­pet­i­tive fig­ure skater, Chan has landed on his back­side thou­sands of times and has learned to lessen the blow.

There is a right way and a wrong way to fall.

“There’s a cer­tain amount of bracing that you can cre­ate to lessen the im­pact. I do it sub­con­sciously now, I flex or al­most con­tract as I hit the ice, so it’s al­most like a bounce as op­posed to a splat on the ice,” Chan said, em­pha­siz­ing “splat” with a smack of his palm.

“It’s a bounce where you kind of get a skip and get right back up on your feet. You’re not killing all your mo­men­tum on the ice, you’re carrying it across the ice, like the skip of a stone.”

If only falls were as grace­ful as skip­ping stones. The Gangneung Ice Arena has hosted a pageantry of un­flat­ter­ing tum­bles at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I hate fall­ing,” world sil­ver medal­ist Kaet­lyn Os­mond said.

From alpine ski­ing to short­track speed skat­ing, nu­mer­ous win­ter sports fea­ture spec­tac­u­lar crashes. But there’s noth­ing quite like a wince-in­duc­ing fall in fig­ure skat­ing. It’s a jar­ring in­ter­rup­tion to a skater’s pro­gram, like a punc­tu­a­tion mark in a line of po­etry.

“There are falls where I’ll come back to my coach Lee [Barkell] and I’ll say ‘I can feel my stom­ach in my throat,’ ” said Gabrielle Dale­man, who won bronze be­hind Os­mond at last year’s world cham­pi­onships.

Canada’s two-time world pairs cham­pi­ons Mea­gan Duhamel and Eric Rad­ford added the throw quadru­ple Sal­chow for the 201415 sea­son, but the hours of per­fect­ing it – and fall­ing while do­ing it – took a toll on the 32-year-old Duhamel. “I have a per­ma­nent in­dent in my right hip from fall­ing on the throw quad,” Duhamel said. “But it’s part of the game.”

A fall comes with a one-point de­duc­tion, and can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween gold and miss­ing the podium en­tirely.

It’s un­der­stand­able that falls hap­pen. Trav­el­ling at up to 32 kilo­me­tres an hour, bal­anc­ing on what amounts to Ginsu knives on their feet, skaters can cover more than four me­tres on a quadru­ple jump, in less than a sec­ond, land­ing with the force seven times their body weight. The worst falls, skaters say, are the un­ex­pected ones.

“We know how to brace our­selves, so that when we fall on a jump, it’s okay,” Os­mond said. “It’s the freak falls that hurt the most. The ones when you’re do­ing chore­og­ra­phy and you just hit your toe pick and … face on the ice.”

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