The sport of gymnastics shares many similarities when compared to its winter sport sister, figure skating. As we prepare to watch the women’s individual portion of figure skating at the 2018 Winter Olympics, many current and former gymnasts will be tuning in to see the performances, the artistry, and of course, the power of the jumps!

By Gina Pongetti, MPT, MA, CSCS, ART-Cert. Physical Therapist

Feature photo by NBC Olympics

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The sport of gymnastics shares many similarities when compared to its winter sport sister, figure skating. As we prepare to watch the women’s individual portion of figure skating at the 2018 Winter Olympics, many current and former gymnasts will be tuning in to see the performances, the artistry, and of course, the power of the jumps!

Often similar to the details of tumbling passes, the general public typically has a difficult time separating the different categories of skating jumps. In gymnastics, there are two main types of tumbling passes: front tumbling passes and back tumbling passes. Variations of these types of passes include some that start forward and end backward and some that start backward and end forward. In skating, this is true as well.

In gymnastics, the takeoff for most skills is often done from one leg (Switch Leaps, Tour Jete, etc.). But that takeoff never results in four rotations, right? This is partially because the height that skaters get comes from turning motion and speed (velocity) into vertical momentum by means of a quick change and block (by way of the edge of a skate or a toe pick). It is definitely a bit hard for “flippers” to understand. However, the concept is very similar to the “short” takeoff of a backwards triple twist. When performing this skill, a gymnast stops the rotation from the back handspring, taking that velocity corner to corner, and, finally, using the gained height to twist three times with only one flip.

So how can you tell which jump a skater is performing when the takeoffs are so quick? One telltale sign as to the degree of difficulty of a jump is when it is performed “Tano”. This means one arm is extended over the skater’s head as a variation from just the normal chest hug. This ‘flare’ of artistry is named after 1988 Men’s singles Olympic Champion, Brian Boitano, who was known for adding this element to his jumps.

Let’s do a quick skate lesson; so by the time the women take the ice, you’re a jump pro!


The Five Most Important Aspects of a Figure Skate


  1. The bottom of the blade is slightly curved and called a “radius degree blade”. When skaters have their blades sharpened, the flatter the blade (the less the curve), the sharper the edges, and the better the control. This is based on each individual skater’s preference.
  2. The hollow. There is an actual “trough” or hollow area between the inside and outside edges of the skate. The deeper the hollow, the more the skate can dig into the ice (functioning almost like two parallel blades). Less experienced skaters often prefer deeper hollows. More advanced skaters will typically have more shallow hollows, leading to less friction and a smoother glide. That trade-off comes with giving up edge control, which impacts jump takeoff and landing. Again, personal preference.
  3. The toe pick, which is located on the front of the skate, is used to dig or tap into the ice to change forward speed and motion into vertical height in the jump takeoff.
  4. Inside edge. This edge is located on the side of each foot closest to your big toe or the inside of the ankle.
  5. Outside edge. This edge is located on the side of each foot closest to the pinky toe or outer edge of the ankle. This is the edge used to land jumps.


Jump Rotations


Jumps are measured by the amount of full rotations that take place. Currently, skaters perform jumps with one to four rotations, denoted as single, double, triple, and quad jumps, respectively. In his singles free skate at the 2018 Olympic Games, Nathan Chen landed six “quad” jumps, topping his previous U.S. record of landing five in one free program.

In regard to rotations, jumps fall into two categories: on the full and on the half. The only jump that is measured on the “half” rotation is the Axel. This means that a triple Axel is actually 3.5 rotations. Although the difficulty level of skating is progressing at an exceptional rate, no skater has yet to land a “quad” Axel (4.5 rotations).


Differentiating Jumps by Name


Axel. Named after Axel Paulsen, a Norwegian skater, this jump was first performed in 1882.

Axel Paulsen


Takeoff: From the outside edge of the non-dominant leg.

Landing: Dominate leg.

Example: Most skaters are right leg dominant, so they takeoff from the left leg and land on the right leg.

NOTE: This is the only jump that starts forward.


Salchow (often pronounced sow-cow). Performed first in 1909 by Ulrich Salchow, a Swedish figure skater.

Ulrich Salchow

Takeoff: Non-dominant leg, inside edge.

Landing: Dominate leg.

Note: Both the Axel and Salchow are performed with a one-leg takeoff, requiring an immense amount of strength.


Lutz. First performed in 1913 by Austrian skater Alois Lutz.

Main Takeoff: Non-dominant leg, outside edge (only jump properly performed from this edge). Takeoff left and turn left (when right leg dominant), which is counter-intuitive. This jump’s takeoff is preceded by a reach back of the opposite leg and a “toe pick” to transfer energy from traveling to vertical, jumping off of both legs.

Alois Lutz

This jump is especially difficult because of the use of the “unnatural edge” to the skater.


Flip. Same as the Lutz but using the inside edge.


Flutz. Done with the intention of performing a Lutz, using the outside edge, but the jump changes to inside edge because of poor mechanics, being off balance, starting to rotate early, improper timing or jump mechanics, or even pain or balance being off.

This is similar to “cheating” a takeoff in gymnastics like a Popa Jump or not being square for an Arabian.


Lip. Turning an intended Flip (inside edge) to an outside edge (Lutz). Results from similar issues as the Flutz.



Takeoff: From back, outside edge. Technique varies between the two versions. The first is a single leg push off while the other leg swings through and sweeps, sometimes touching the ice. In the second version, the “assisting” leg touches the ice, and “assists” slightly in the jump. This is viewed as less “pure” of a loop. The power comes from the same leg as the landing leg. The loop is often done as the second jump in a series (with the immediate takeoff happening from the landing leg).


Toe loop. A loop jump with a pick from the opposite leg.


So gymnasts, how hard is it to imagine these jumps in gymnastics terms? Let’s try.


  • Strug (Tour Jete half). Similar to the takeoff of an Left foot, turn right. This is the outside edge for skaters but done flat-footed for gymnasts. This skill is often “cheated” by turning early, which, with the deep “edge” of a skater in the ice, is not allowed. Do a single full turn on your left foot, and then, without putting your right foot down, immediately do a single jump turn toward the left.
  • Salchow Part 2. Do a back handspring step out on beam, but don’t step on to your back leg. Instead, swing it through and push off for your Gainer full dismount! It takes off on the “inside” edge of your step down leg!
  • Flips and Lutz. The most similar skill would be a double turn to the left. Then place your right foot down and try a Popa. You receive a little “help” from putting the leg down. Gymnasts don’t have edges on their feet, so there is no leaning.


We hope you enjoyed this breakdown of figure skating jumps!

Enjoy what remains of these amazing two weeks that we only get every two years! And here’s to all of the athletes. We’re wishing for safe and exciting performances. Thousands of hours, both on and off the ice, have gone in to preparing for these exciting moments of athleticism and artistry.

Let’s see who, ultimately, has the edge!

The figure skating portion of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, concludes with the Ladies’ singles event, February 21-23, 2018.

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