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Thread: What constitutes skating talent?

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    What constitutes skating talent?

    Olympia asked in the Gordeeva's daughters thread,
    what is it that one will spot at this age to give indication of her talent? Or maybe I should ask, at what age might one spot potential?
    Good questions, which I thought might be worth discussing apart from any particular young skaters.

    I'll suggest some qualities that seem to me to indicate potential when present in young lower-level skaters when they're starting out:

    balance, awareness of where the body is in space (proprioception, alignment), fearlessness

    ability to skate fast, lean over edges, support the weight on bent knees, turn both directions and change direction with ease and at speed, which includes subtle adjustments of balance over the right part of the blade at the right time for each move; ability to jump high and rotate quickly

    Some of this can be trained, but only so far, based on one's natural physical gifts. Obviously the skating skills I list after the line break are learned, but I'd say talent = ability to pick up these skills quickly.

    Especially for ice dancing, ability to hear musical rhythm and control the body movements to match it.

    And then there are talents more related to the artistic side of skating, such as ability to feel music and to move in ways that makes audience feel it, that will help a skater's results compared to others of his/her skill level but that won't substitute for technical skills to begin with. And flexibility and extension, some of which is genetic and some of which can be trained, but are not skating skills per se.

    What do you think?

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    Do you think that some young children just take naturally to gliding and stroking on skates? Like, the skates become part of their bodies or something, rather than fighting them. For most people. strapping steel blades onto the bottom of your feet is pretty weird (skis would be even worst I would imagine -- trying to maneuver with big, long artificial feet.)

    Many successful Jack-of-all trades athletes meet their match when they have to make use of artificial apparatuses and body extensions.

    It seems like for those select few naturals who can skate on ice as easily as they can run on dry land, they would have an instant advantage in speed, jumping ability, and rhythmic movement. After all, kids can run, jump and dance already -- now just do it wearing skates.

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    Thanks for starting this thread!

    When I watched Liza, I was so impressed at what she could do that I wondered whether it was just because I so rarely see young skaters that everyone looks amazing, or whether this is a high level of accomplishment for the age of 11. The one child skater I knew personally and saw skate was the daughter of a friend who trained for local competitions but had no Olympic goals. When she tapered off skating in her teens, she barely had an axel. By comparison, of course, Liza looks like Sonja Henie. So I need the experts at GS to calibrate my understanding. What's commonplace for the age of 11? What's promising at that age? What's exceptional? Thanks for the opportunity to learn about this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gkelly View Post
    Olympia asked in the Gordeeva's daughters thread,


    Good questions, which I thought might be worth discussing apart from any particular young skaters.

    I'll suggest some qualities that seem to me to indicate potential when present in young lower-level skaters when they're starting out:

    balance, awareness of where the body is in space (proprioception, alignment), fearlessness

    ability to skate fast, lean over edges, support the weight on bent knees, turn both directions and change direction with ease and at speed, which includes subtle adjustments of balance over the right part of the blade at the right time for each move; ability to jump high and rotate quickly

    Some of this can be trained, but only so far, based on one's natural physical gifts. Obviously the skating skills I list after the line break are learned, but I'd say talent = ability to pick up these skills quickly.

    Especially for ice dancing, ability to hear musical rhythm and control the body movements to match it.

    And then there are talents more related to the artistic side of skating, such as ability to feel music and to move in ways that makes audience feel it, that will help a skater's results compared to others of his/her skill level but that won't substitute for technical skills to begin with. And flexibility and extension, some of which is genetic and some of which can be trained, but are not skating skills per se.

    What do you think?
    What a great and insightful post as always. I agree on all accounts. What makes figure skating so unique is that being a talented skater goes beyond just being physically talented. But many artistic abilities can only be built upon solid technical fundamentals. One can be incredibly musical and even move the arms and hands beautifully to music, but he won't make much of an impact unless that's done with balance, posture, knee bend, and speed. I thought the mention of fearlessness is particularly interesting. That's probably true for many athletically demanding sports like skiing, diving etc. Being fearless also helps one to learn more quickly than others. This is something that one is born either with or without.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    Do you think that some young children just take naturally to gliding and stroking on skates? Like, the skates become part of their bodies or something, rather than fighting them.
    Definitely. But I would say that that's an effect of good balance, proprioception, and fearlessness.

    As I understand, getting on the ice at an early age (2-3 years old, or even younger) really helps with the balance. But other aspects are probably largely inborn.

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    Mao 9-10 y. o http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qmv-Y4UWP4 sooo adorable!
    Plush 9.y. o. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40M3l2jZ35w Plush began to skate when he was 4 y.o.
    Both are great talent,good technique, musicality. They had innate talent.

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    Thanks Gkelly for the great, comprehensive post! I think one additional piece to the puzzle would be a disposition to refuse defeat (or desire to excel?) even when one's at a very young age, accompanied by enduring work ethic. I think that can be considered as a part of talent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Olympia View Post
    What's commonplace for the age of 11? What's promising at that age? What's exceptional?
    Partly it depends at what age they start, of course. A skater who first steps on the ice at 10 or 11 will probably not be doing many, if any, double jumps when they're still 11, or difficult turns, but you could see talent in the quality of the beginning elements.

    But on average, of those who had started a few to many years younger than that, in the US most 11-year-olds will be competing at Juvenile level. If you get an opportunity, watch a club competition or an initial round from a regional competition to get an idea of the range of skill at that level.

    The weakest juveniles will skate somewhat tentatively and rely on simple turns, squeak out single axels and probably cheat some double jumps.

    The strongest juveniles skate with speed and security; jump high and rotate their doubles with ease, maybe including double axel (or maybe they're still learning that one); execute complicated steps and turn both directions at speed in their step sequences and between elements; spin fast with some difficult variations; and present the programs with confidence. If you watch the juvenile girls at sectionals or nationals, now that that's their qualifying path, that's the skill level you will see.

    The average juvenile will be somewhere in between -- probably trying doubles up to lutz and 2-2 combinations but not always rotating them all, in-between quality and difficulty on the spins and steps.

    An 11-year-old who has the speed and security and difficult skills and can also land one or more triples will be competing in intermediate or novice. Those are exceptional.

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    Quote Originally Posted by plushyfan View Post
    Mao 9-10 y. o http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qmv-Y4UWP4 sooo adorable!
    Plush 9.y. o. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40M3l2jZ35w Plush began to skate when he was 4 y.o.
    Both are great talent,good technique, musicality. They had innate talent.
    Holy smokes! Those videos are unbelievable. No wonder these two have had such careers.

    Aww, Plushy had his wonderful posture even at that age, and that hair.

    These are great! Thanks so much. They prove that genius can show up really early sometimes.


    Os168, I like that proverb. Certainly there have been times when sheer grit has gotten someone to the top, and not just in skating. On GS we've often talked about the importance of a skater's having mental toughness, or the other gifts don't matter as much. For all we talk about Kwan's musicality and gorgeous technique, it's her coolness under pressure that made her the top contender in so many competitions. The same is certainly true of YuNa, who had to have a will of titanium steel to get the job done in Vancouver with so much pressure on her from her country--and so many other skaters peaking that night, with no falls.

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    Think such discussions can descend into mere subjective abstractions, i.e. "musicality."

    I can definitely tell you skaters whom I thought were destined to be great artists but turned out to be flukes artistically. Baiul and Plush. I was floored when Plush burst onto the scene in '98. Ironically, I thought his Jean-Michel Jarre program was far better than his later programs. He had everything and he just sort ride on the same standard forever, never improving. His choreography was full of filler, dramatic but meaningless moves. Baiul showed so much natural beauty of movement in '93-94, and then all her subsequent programs after '98 were pure crap. Posing and more posing. Don't even know why she bothered to choose to any music at all, because whatever she was performing had no relevance to the music.

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    I think that Baiul is an unusual case. She won the Olympics and then kind of imploded in terms of her life. I don't think she had the dedicated training regimen that even a pro skater needs in order to maintain a high standard of work. If you look at someone like Gordeyeva or Denise Biellmann, both people who are known for their work ethic, you can see that even a world or Olympic gold medal doesn't excuse a person from working as though a novice bronze medal is still in her or his future. Baiul did not apply herself in the same way after she won the OGM. There were many reasons for that, of course. She was just sixteen. She was now her own boss, with money to burn. She was discovering the indulgent life of the Western rich, after years of poverty. Her body was changing. She had probably started to party a bit too much. I suspect that she also didn't really care about pushing the envelope in terms of what a skater could create on the ice. She was a drama queen, with not a lot of musical savvy, and the music she skated to generally went for the easy, tearjerker effect. Compare this to what Kurt Browning tried on the ice as a competitor during the very same years, and you can see that there's a real difference in dedication level. Even when he skated to pop songs like Brick House, he threw himself into every move, not just because he loved the spotlight but because he loved the work itself.

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    Talent is a key ingredient, but it is far from ever being "enough"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Olympia View Post
    I think that Baiul is an unusual case. She won the Olympics and then kind of imploded in terms of her life. I don't think she had the dedicated training regimen that even a pro skater needs in order to maintain a high standard of work. If you look at someone like Gordeyeva or Denise Biellmann, both people who are known for their work ethic, you can see that even a world or Olympic gold medal doesn't excuse a person from working as though a novice bronze medal is still in her or his future. Baiul did not apply herself in the same way after she won the OGM. There were many reasons for that, of course. She was just sixteen. She was now her own boss, with money to burn. She was discovering the indulgent life of the Western rich, after years of poverty. Her body was changing. She had probably started to party a bit too much. I suspect that she also didn't really care about pushing the envelope in terms of what a skater could create on the ice. She was a drama queen, with not a lot of musical savvy, and the music she skated to generally went for the easy, tearjerker effect. Compare this to what Kurt Browning tried on the ice as a competitor during the very same years, and you can see that there's a real difference in dedication level. Even when he skated to pop songs like Brick House, he threw himself into every move, not just because he loved the spotlight but because he loved the work itself.
    You're right of course...

    But if you were a coach when Baiul was 12 like Zmievskaya, you would have thought she was a skating angel sent from heaven to save us all. She was so talented, which is the topic of this thread. The obvious potential you see during childhood. Some skaters had it all from the beginning but somehow didn't realize their potential. It's a constant theme everywhere. Johnny Weir comes to mind. Baiul isn't so much an unusual case, but rather an extreme case. Her life is a result of all elements of failure, but lucky for her she scraped the OGM before she went to hell.

    Yet talent isn't all that it takes to get to the top. Hard work, definitely luck, and support (actually just a certain level of popularity) from others.

    Maria B. was told she had no talent and that she should quit. But she was talented, albeit limited, and still reached as much success as stiff knees and delicate nerves could take her.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackPack View Post
    Think such discussions can descend into mere subjective abstractions, i.e. "musicality."

    I can definitely tell you skaters whom I thought were destined to be great artists but turned out to be flukes artistically. Baiul and Plush. I was floored when Plush burst onto the scene in '98. Ironically, I thought his Jean-Michel Jarre program was far better than his later programs. He had everything and he just sort ride on the same standard forever, never improving. His choreography was full of filler, dramatic but meaningless moves. Baiul showed so much natural beauty of movement in '93-94, and then all her subsequent programs after '98 were pure crap. Posing and more posing. Don't even know why she bothered to choose to any music at all, because whatever she was performing had no relevance to the music.
    I think Plushenko is a good example who had amazing physical talents but lacked much artistic vision. He had all the tools to be an incredible dancer, but he never really learned how to utilize them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shine View Post
    I think Plushenko is a good example who had amazing physical talents but lacked much artistic vision. He had all the tools to be an incredible dancer, but he never really learned how to utilize them.
    Probably because he did not work with choreographers who could have helped him to develop the skills.

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