28. Threes-to-Center  RFO-LFO, Factor 1

I consider this one of the most important figures of all. In my early competitive days it was in the international schedule (in fact, I made my international debut at the Winter Olympic Games of 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, by literally falling flat on my face through the soft ice while skating it for the judges!), and I sometimes feel our competitors today would achieve a higher average of school skating if they had to keep it in practice beyond the first test level.

The control, limberness, and quick balance that it takes to place these forward turns on the apex of two true circles, with an almost 180 degree turnout during the IB to OF transition from one foot to the other at the center (Diagram 6-5, 6, 7), are a fine barre lesson in themselves. The incomparable Tenley Al­bright, during the years she was winning her world and Olym­pic titles, practiced this figure almost daily.

Each three is skated exactly as described earlier, and if you have learned to do your waltz eight with real control, the greater control needed to place the turn on the half-circle mark and hold the IB edge steadily back to center should not prove too difficult. Remember to rotate your shoulders against your hips from the pushoff to the turn. That means a free shoulder forward against a free hip that is pressed constantly back and a skating shoulder blade drawn back into your backbone while your skating hip is under you forward and leading (Illus. 29-1, 2). (A word of caution here: A skating hip is said to be forward merely because the other hip is backward in line behind it. Do not make the mistake of thrusting the hip out forward any more than you would let it jut out sideways.)

Free leg and skating knee action is even more important here than on the waltz eight. Let your well-bent knee rise slowly from the quarter mark to the turn. Just before going into the turn itself, close your free leg, straight-kneed and turned out, in behind your skating leg with your feet in complete T-posi-tion (29-2, 3 and 18-1, 2, 3). As you shift your weight from the back center to the ball of your foot and tighten the skating shoulder blade a fraction more to motivate the pivot of the turn, be sure that you keep your feet touching (18-3). As you feel your skate come through the turn onto the IB edge, reverse your shoulders, bend your knee again, and let your free foot and leg stretch out, straight and pointed right along the path of the rest of the projected circle (29-4). All this movement is so quick (about %0 of a second) that when I do my best threes, onlookers often don't realize that I have touched my feet at all, let alone kept them touching throughout the whole cusp of the turn.

The control of the IB edge all the way back to the starting center is achieved by what is technically known as "checking." "Check" here has the meaning of the word "stop," and to check means to stop rotation by reversing the shoulders. In other words, by pressing the free shoulder back as you come through the point of the turn, you help to hold the backward pressure on the free hip also, thus stopping the rotation worked up by the shoulders versus hips "torque" before the turn (29-3, 4). The skating shoulder meanwhile, slightly lower and with the weight on it (to maintain the balance on the ball of the skating foot), moves forward to keep the body in one straight, leaning, un-rotated line (29-3, 4, 5). The only movement from the turn to the center is a gradual upward pressure of the skating knee again.

As your skate nears the start, bend both knees deeply and at the same time bring in your free leg and foot so well turned out that the free heel can rest against the inside of the skating heel (29-5). As your heels touch, start your body lean toward the new circle and at the same instant turn your skating heel out so that you make a clean push from the IB edge straight onto the OF edge (29-6). (This pushoff mark will leave a tiny "tail" on the ice toward the new circle.)

Complete the three on the corresponding circle with the movements described above. The only difference will be an inability (at least until you are expert) to rotate the shoulders immediately after the transition from back to front. However, you must rotate them fully as soon as you can, at least by the quarter-circle.

Remember: Not one bit of this technique will work the desired result on the ice unless you stand erect at all times, with a straight back and the muscles at the base of your spine pulled down and tightened throughout the entire diagram. You must feel the point at which rotation of the shoul­ders against the hips must stop. If you break forward at all, your shoulders will go right on turning with nothing to stop them, until your body weight is way ahead of your skate and your turn is ruined.

What is the desired result on the ice? Round circles and steady edges with the three turns placed exactly at the top of each circle facing straight down the long axis to the center. The two halves of each circle and the two halves of each turn cusp should be so symmetrical that if you cut the figure in two, lengthwise, and lapped it over at the long axis, one half would match the other exactly.

Over and above these generalities true to all figures, the turns must be "clean." This means that the skate must make the transition from the OF edge to the IB edge right at the exact point of the turn. As you practice, take time out to examine your threes closely—on your hands and knees looking against the light if need be. Two lines on the ice are the telltale signs of a flat, or a change of edge, which mean that your skate came up straight and shifted edges either too soon or too late. The flat that shows on the ice is often called a "double edge." If you have perfect balance the shift from one edge to the other will occur right at the point of the turn, leaving a minute open space. An "open-top" three is the ideal for which you must strive. There should be no thickening or gouging of the edge before or after the turn, the quality of the tracing should be the same on both sides, and on the top of your turn there should be no toe mark (known as a "spoon") from the teeth of your blades. The turn, in other words, should be the natural result of the lean and twist of your body and should not be forced through the ankle. Judges see so few of these easy unforced threes in advanced skating that when they do see them, they often forget to give the large extra credit such fine balance should earn.

A good tip for accurate placing of your turns is to look on each pushoff at the point on the long axis opposite your starting toe where you intend to turn—and don't take your eye from that spot until your skate reaches it. Your skating toe, inci­dentally, should feel as if it were pressing out of the circle right from the start until the split second that your skating side turns down the long axis. Another word of caution: Be sure that at the center you keep your feet very close together while pushing from IB to OF. A wide step will almost invari­ably mean that your skating hip will be thrown out on the OF edge, and you will not be able to recover perfect balance to start your twist on time.

And what is the best exercise to aid in turning perfect threes? The spread eagle, of course.


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