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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Countdown party at the rink

Bored in Singapore on New Year's Eve? Here's yet another party - Fuji Ice Palace is having a countdown party for the new year!

Looking back at this past year...

It is once again that time of the year where we reminisce and take stock of events in the year gone by.

2006 has been quite a good year for me (skating-wise, at least). I skate with more confidence, the double Sal & double toe are feeling much better, I have experimented with different variations in spins and spiral sequences... I have learned a lot and overall, I am happy with my achievements in the year.

A look back at some events in my skating life:

I started this blog! It is proving useful in reviewing what has been going on this past year...

My various issues with dance.
A last-minute pairing, inspired me to try again.
I was later obliged to stop, but gave it a final shot - which failed!

I found out that I have a fracture in the spine! Fortunately, my back has held up very well throughout the year.

There are new things in my skating life
- Choreographed a new freestyle program (and practising it!)
- Put together my first "Artistic" program (within one month)!
- New variations for the combination spin, footwork sequence and spiral sequence.

To top it all, of course, my win at Mountain Cup 2006!
Not forgetting also that I am the National Champion in the Adult Ladies' category.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Layback Spin

This morning, I was complimented on my layback spin. I don't think too much of my layback, since my back is not all that flexible. In fact, I have recently been looking at old videos, and find that my layback isn't much of lay-ing back, but more of lifting the free leg up! Well, the "lifting the free leg up" part must have improved over the last 2 years... I have also felt much more comfortable in this spin lately.

So what makes my layback?

Free leg position
I keep my knee turned out just a little, and circle the leg around so that my boot would be right under my head. Almost like wrapping my free leg around a tree trunk. My previous coach hated that I keep my knee out - she said to press the knee down, turn the toe out, and keep the boot under my ponytail - a combination of instructions which I always thought was impossible (and even if possible, would be ugly). The positive thing was that she did make me think of pulling the boot around and back under my ponytail, which makes for a nice rounded free leg position.

Back position
The most important is to think of pressing the hips forward, before arching the back backwards. I have seen girls starting on the layback by pushing the tummy out. Looks cute, but well, not all that aesthetic!

Speed in the spin
I have noticed that lately I've been able to maintain speed in the layback. As I pull the boot in under the ponytail, and even think of pressing the knee down a little, yes, I can go fast. No wonder my previous coach said to do that... perhaps it isn't all that impossible after all!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back from vacation

Got back yesterday after a holiday in Cambodia. It was a fun, interesting and educational vacation,
FIVE days without skating, and the double Sal has disappeared... I suppose it thought that if I could go on vacation, it can too! At least my Axel only turned ugly, and didn't go away completely.
I feel so broken...
First, my right knee was really stiff - no less from all the climbing around in the Angkor ruins.
Then, my back was kinda sore - from all the bumping around in the tuk-tuk? I hope to keep back problems at bay...
Lastly, my landing leg kept sliding out from under me. Later I realised that I didn't lace my right boot tight enough!
Boy, I even forgot how to lace my skates?!? Wonder what state my skating would be in after the 10-day hiatus in January when the rink will be closed for renovation!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skating with Celebrities

More than NINE months after it ended in the US, local stations are going to premier Skating with Celebrities here in Singapore.

Reading short synopsis of each episode, it sounds like it would be quite entertaining! Unfortunately I'd miss the first episode ad I'm going on holiday! HEE!!

It'd be awesome if they'd show the UK show, Dancing on Ice. Apparently this has been reproduced in other countries such as The Netherlands & Belgium, Germany, and Russia. Don't see why they can't do it in Singapore too *grin*

Monday, December 18, 2006

Announcement for Mountain Cup 2007

The Mountain Cup 2007 will be held on 1-3 June 2007 at Villard-de-Lans, France.

As usual, there will be a 3-day camp just before the competition (from 28-30 May) and with the raclette dinner as well... fun!

The announcement and information has just been made available. I have put them up in a zipped file.

Planning and Performance

I recently viewed some of the ladies' programs from the Grand Prix Final.

Yu-Na Kim is gorgeous. She makes everything look so easy! Mao Asada fell on two jumps and missed a combination. Still, her program was beautiful!

The outcome of a competition depends on the athlete's performance. It was a shame for Mao, but really, she didn't perform as perfectly as she often does. I think, though, that the greatest shame would be to lose on a poorly planned program. To lose out on points that "could have been".

As a math major working in operations research - and a figure skater & coach - it is not surprising that I'm trying to derive ways and means to up levels of spins, step sequences, etc... and ways to optimise the elements and layout of the program so as to
max total points achiveable
max performance
s.t. skater's ability
(by the way, it is okay if you didn't understand that.)

So, I'm really very curious why Yu-Na Kim, Fumie Suguri and Mao Asada all had only level 2 step sequence in their free program. Was it planned that way? Is there a further objective? Or is the effort for a level 3 more what it is worth? If so, perhaps we mortal souls shouldn't even crack our heads and waste our energy trying to up the level of a step sequence!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

No show => forfeit??

I am always miffed when students don't show up, and don't even have the courtesy to call to cancel. Especially on a day like today, when I had to wait an hour between my previous lesson and this girl's lesson, and when I had no one else after her! I mean, I could have gotten home an hour and a half earlier! SHEESH!

Theoretically, the rink's policy is supposed to be:
forfeit the lesson unless the skater calls to cancel at least 24 hours in advance (or produce a medical certificate, if she/he is ill).

BUT often the office tends to close 2 eyes.
AND sometimes mis-communication stalls the message.
IN ANY CASE, I have a good mind to tell the office, as long as I was there I want my commission even if the student wasn't! (of course, unless I knew in advance that the student wasn't going to come)

This is part of the reason I like to communicate directly with my students. I don't care if they call me the week before, the night before, or the morning of... as long as it is before lesson and I don't end up waiting aimlessly!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Day in the life of an adult skater

Three times a week, I skate at 8am, before going to work. A typical day with morning skating would be somewhat like this:

6am -> alarm rings... Actually it is really not yet 6 since my clock is something like 8 minutes fast... So I hit snooze  - it will ring again in 10 minutes (that is, if I didn't hit the wrong button!).

I get up early because my body needs about 2 hours to be awake enough to skate! Another skater friend of mine insists that it should be 3 hours, not 2. She really did wake up at 5am for her 8am test (and she was staying with me that night! ARGH!!!)

I make tea, and, if hungry, get something to eat. I turn on my computer to check mail (and reply only if urgent, since I don't have much time). Then I go about doing stuff around the house. Laundry, or ironing, or cleaning the floor, or even making dinner for the evening...

Yes, that's right, dinner! I have one of those wonderful vacuum pots, which keep food hot for eons... It is almost like having a wireless slow cooker. So I start a soup or a stew, get it boiling, stick it into the vacuum pot and it will complete cooking while I'm skating. Brilliant!

Oh, of course I have to get some stretching in too. Ever since my back problems two years ago, I have lost faith in the "no warm up needed" theory. Not that I believed in it to begin with, but I had gotten away with it often enough, when I'm rushed for time! (Yah, I know, that is terrible!) So these days, I stretch in the morning before I go to the rink.

At about 7:20 and I get changed into my skating clothes, and pack a change of normal clothes for work. I try to get out of the apartment by 7:40, but I invariably run late. This time of the year, it takes just 10 minutes for me to drive to the rink in the morning - and I do have the car these days. If I take a bus, I would have to leave before 7:30. If the public schools are in session, it would take at least 15 minutes by car!

I run into the rink, with 5 minutes to jump into my skates and onto the ice! I skate for an hour. Or rather, I plan to, though I'd often give myself another 10 minutes more, 'cos I need to do that spiral sequence again... or I need to try that variation in the layback... or I forgot to work on flying camel... or... some other thing!

Then, I jump off the ice, out of my boots and into my "normal" clothes. Time to rush off to work...

I am not at liberty to disclose what I do at work, so just imagine it is a typical day of work, with issues to settle, meetings to go to, things to plan for...

It is often way past 7pm by the time I get home, usually almost 8. That is, if I'm not headed back to the rink to coach in the evenings, or taking some course, or meeting with friends. Finally, some time to relax a bit... dinner, TV, surf the net for news (you can't imagine how entertaining the net is these days!), check mail, chat with friends... Seasonally, I would also be cutting music, choreographing programs, thinking up of incredible variations for IJS, or worrying about TBISC or SISA events...

So there... If you have read this far, you must be totally bored... but oh well, whatever!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dynamics at the Rink

With the new pricing scheme, the dynamics at the rink is changing...

Beginners are allocated to the "Tier 1" coaches... or rather, the "instructors".

The full-time coaches (and other Tier 2 coaches) are starting to have more free time. Partly due to regular students stopping or cutting back on lessons due to the increased expense, and partly due to not getting most of the beginner skaters. On the other hand, the instructors are getting busy, and often have full schedules.

Some history: These "instructors" are those employed to work behind the skate counter - to give out skates, and provide "free guidance" to group bookings. At one period of time when there was a dire lack of coaches, they were also brought in to also teach "introductory lessons". This slowly evolved to teaching any skater who would have lessons with them.

OK, let me get this straight - I do not have anything against the instructors coaching. In fact, I think they are doing a pretty decent job with the beginners. I make the distinction only because of their original job-scope... they are hired primarily to man the skate counter!!!

So while the instructors are busy, who mans the skate counter? Nobody! Oh, sorry, yes, there's somebody - the full-time coaches who have some time off and happen to be sitting there...

"could you get skates for me please"

My coach was insulted when he had to do that! To make matters worse, I heard that last week, he had to take a group for "free guidance" because all the instructors had lessons scheduled!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Discounted Coaching

It wasn't so long ago that I had a conversation with one of the people in the rink office about discounts for lessons. It went something like:

T: I'm not sure if this affects you too, but you know some groups get a discount on lesson, and I have been rather confused why we are still paying full commission for them.

Me: Well, we expect commission based on the published prices. We wouldn't know about discounts the rink gives, and even so, its the rink's decision, not ours.

T: But it does not make sense that we are collecting less, yet paying the same commission to the coaches.

Me: Ok, if that's what the management decides, at least let us know beforehand so that we can decide whether to take the student. For example, the school group class was heavily discounted, but before I agreed to do it, the office had told me how much the commission was going to be.

[Note that this is not the exact transcript, but it was something like this.]

In my opinion, if the rink decides to give discount on lesson fees, it ought not impact coaches' commission. We are the ones providing the service. It would be tantamount to a car salesman giving 20% discount to the customer then turning around and telling Mercedes Benz that they would pay only 20% of the cost price because the customer got a discount!

Or at the very least, tell the coaches in advance so that we can make a decision as to whether to accept the discount or not! This cannot be done retroactively!!

We hadn't heard anything more about this... But in the latest commission statement that came out last week, all the coaches noticed that they had discounted commission!

This morning, someone suggested a solution: discounted coaching!
What is that? Well, perhaps put in 80% of energy to coach? Or perhaps give a 24-min lesson instead of a 30-min one!!

Oh boy, I don't think the skaters are going to be very happy about that!!

Rink Renovation

While I have heard some time ago, it is now officially announced:
The rink will be closed for renovation from 8th to 17th of January 2007

They are optimistic that the renovation might be completed early, in which case the rink will re-open on or before 17 Jan. To be sure, the previous time they re-did the ice, it was completed early.

In any case, I will probably have to deal with skating withdrawal for those 10 days! Talk about AOSS! LOL!

* AOSS = Adult-Onset Skating Syndrome

Monday, December 11, 2006

Trying to practise my program

This needs a cartoon, but I am no artist, so simple diagrams and words will have to suffice.

I work my program myself (heck, my coach hasn't even looked at it yet!). I put in my CD, hit the play butten and RUN to the start position. Then I look around, and... this is not a specific scenario, but quite typical:
Coach A is standing right in front of me - on the exact spot I do my combination spin.
Coach B is working with a student on crossovers on a little circle in the corner exactly where I would land the Axel.
Coach C always has his students do jumps (and spins too) in the Lutz corner.
Coach D would be standing near the other side.

This diagram shows their relative positions to me:

Thus I start the obstacle course...
1. Can't do the combination spin. Ok, just a small spinning motion, wait for the music...
2. I get to the Axel, and OOPS! Ok, do a Waltz jump... pretend it was a beautiful Axel. No problem!
3. Skate around for the Lutz... uh-oh! NO! Dont' even jump!
After that, I finally get to the a bit of my program, then the layback, then...
4. Spiral sequence starts with a backwards... Oh sorry, can't do it, someone's there!

JOKER! How can I ever get a full run-through of my program?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Skaters changing coaches

I don't usually question why skaters switch coaches.
I don't usually ask why skaters choose the coaches they are with.

Each coach works differently, has different technique, different style, and different interaction with students. A coach may work well with some skaters, but not others. Some skaters may like one coach but not another. Each skater should find a coach they are comfortable with.

BUT, it is unavoidable that gossip gets around the rink.

Recently I heard that a skater is considering switching coaches... why? Her mother said, "people say she should find a more "pro" coach as she gets to a higher level."

From what I see now, she's with a capable coach, who can teach comfortably at her level. I suppose if she feels she is stagnating, its her prerogative to try another coach. Which coach? "They say Coach X is better than Coach Y. What do you think?"

Oh, "they say"?? Is that why everyone is flocking to Coach X? So what do I think?

From personal experience in freestyle lessons: I feel that Coach X has done nothing for me in the two years I was under him, while Coach Y has done wonders in just this past year.

That is such a high-level, sweeping comparison, sounds totally unfair, but it is really how I do feel. So, if anyone had asked me, they would have gone to Coach Y, right? Of course it is not always fair. I still respect Coach X's technique and attitude, but not for me, not at the time I was under him - I felt I made zero progress!

Some time back, it also seemed there were "complaints" of coaches soliciting other coaches' students. The way I see it, it might not be the coach that is doing the soliciting, but rather the gossip around the rink!

And I am now losing a student to my own coach... oh well...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Coaches and their Skating Level

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was reminded me of something mentioned on one of the mailing lists:
ISI has this rule now (although many do not follow it) that you can only teach 1 level below what you have passed.

AHA! That would be one incentive for me to pass that FS7 test... walley and all... WOOHOO!!!
But I digress... my point of contention is:
Should a coach be teaching things he/she hasn't mastered himself/herself?

As with all other responses, this one is also "it all depends!" BUT the basic premise is, the coach must be familiar with the technical aspects of the elements. Figure skating is certainly not something one can master from a book, and how else to be familiar than having done it yourself!

To be sure, while I was working on the Axel (that horrendous jump!!) I would feel like it was almost there and of course I could teach it... After all, I knew what was required technically, I knew what each stage of the jump should be like, and I knew some little exercises to work on that would help with it ... That was many years ago, when I did not have students at this level, so the point is moot.

When I finally "mastered" the Axel (i.e. got it more-or-less consistent), I realise that at the previous stage, there was something missing - the "feel" for the jump. While that is not easily explained to the student, it is something a coach needs to have in order to understand what needs to be fixed, and fix it.

So, as a general rule-of-thumb, one level below your test level seems like a pretty reasonable gauge. Then I look around the rink and wonder... oh nevermind!

Years ago, I told one of my beginner student's father that I would grow with my students. I know that I have, but now am pressured to grow a little faster! Perhaps I should seriously consider FS7 sometime...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Attack of the Blue Fluid

When I walked into the rink this morning, there was a gigantic puddle of BLUE fluid on the ice! Looks like someone had burst the cooling pipes once again...

Heard that it happened towards the end of the National Team's early morning ice time.

Also heard that when the coaches came in later, one of them walked out to investigate, and got blue fluid squirted on him. I couldn't help laughing, but I'm sure if I had gotten blue fluid on me, I wouldn't be laughing.

So, I stood by the side of the rink trying to decide if I should still skate ice time this morning or postpone it to next week. The puddle rendered about a quarter of the rink un-skateable, and of course skaters who were having lessons were getting on... And I would loathe to run into any one of them!

Eventually, I decided not to skate... *sigh* wasted trip!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Real Sit Spin

A few years back, I offered to show my friend what a real, lady-like SIT spin should look like. He took a video of it!

Last night, I revisited this spin. It is actually quite a fun variation of the sit spin!

Monday, December 04, 2006

2006 Skate Asia Winter Classic Artistic Program

My Artistic program at the 2006 Skate Asia Winter Classic. My DH used his mobile phone to take this video, so the resolution isn't all that great...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Last day of Skate Asia Winter Classic 2006

Today is the last day of the competition. Rather short competition - just 3 days. My events happened to be only on the first and third day, but I ended up spending the whole of yesterday at the rink not skating, but putting my students on the ice, and judging. I was exhausted by the end of the day.

This morning, I could barely wake up for Dance at 8am! Anyway, it went well, though it has been eons since I last skated the European Waltz. One year, to be exact, as I did it for last year's Skate Singapore competition... It didn't go too badly, except when I realised I was going to hit the boards! No, I didn't crash, but I'm sure it put me a little off-time. EEW!

Artistic was ok, except that I fell on the Axel - something I haven't done in competition since Mountain Cup 2005! It was landed, just a little too much on the outside edge, and with the hard ice, it was impossible to catch... Anyway, the rest went well and I actually landed my double Sal. Ok, not too bad for a 3-week-old program ;-)

My DH took video of my events on his phone, and today I tried to put them up on Google Video. Still trying to figure out how that works...

Friday, December 01, 2006

First day of 2006 Skate Asia Winter Classic

Competition started today.

I took the Gold judges test and... uh... yeah I passed, but just barely! Seriously, the errors were because I read/interpreted the question differently (read: wrongly) OR I put down the answer without thinking (and without checking!).

Oh and also because I didn't believe Freestyle 9 and 10 skaters receive their Freestyle entry FREE at ISI National events! I suppose I knew about it at some point in time, but I didn't remember...

Anyway, after the test was an hour of waiting for the coaches' meeting, then another hour of waiting for my first event -> Figures. The selected figure was the inside eight, and I did ok, though I was quite horrified that my tracings were so horribly far off! Of course it didn't help that the portion of ice I was on was a little uneven.

I did jump and spin with RL. To my surprise, my coach wanted him to do the double loop and I do the flying camel. I mean, his double loop hadn't been all that consistent, but I hadn't seen him for 2 months I thought maybe that has changed. I suppose not... He popped the first loop and did a single instead. Then he stepped out of the second one. Fine, I'm not perfect either - fell out of my first flying camel, though the second one was ok.

Solo Compulsories was right after that. It was 8pm by then, and I had been hanging around the rink for almost 7 hours - I must have been in the perfect frame of mind to do compulsories!

Anyway, the double Sal actually felt good until I stepped out of it. ARGH!!! Then, I did the classic Chow move -> falling out of the camel spin. I think it is good that I'm choreographing my new freestyle program without a forward camel!

So, I left feeling very dissatisfied. Dissatisfied because I didn't perform, not because I ended up second against nobody! Then again, when I thought about it, I must admit that if I had performed yet ended up second I would have been hopping mad!