Why do figure skaters jump with their arms above their heads?

Watching women’s figure skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, you might notice something unusual about some of the jumps: the skaters raise their arms above their heads as they spin. Not all skaters do this, but enough that you wonder what this technique is all about. Like so much else in figure skating, it’s more complex than it first appears.

Until a few years ago, some figure skaters jumped with their arms above their heads in an effort to score more points. At the time, the International Skating Union‘s official judging standards included arm variations as a factor to consider when assigning a jump execution (GOE) score. The GOE is a measure of the skill with which an element is performed: a positive GOE adds points to the base value of the element, while a negative GOE subtracts points. You might hear these arm variations called “Tano” variations (one arm above the head) or “Rippon” variations (both arms above the head), as they were first popularized by Brian Boitano and Adam Rippon, respectively.

The reason was simple. Raising your arms above your head while jumping can make jumping more difficult because it changes the body’s center of gravity. The “standard” jump technique calls for the skater to bring their arms firmly to their chest while turning, focusing their center of gravity. That being said, some skaters actually find it easier to spin with their arms overhead. Straight arms can, in some cases, help a skater “stretch” their body as they jump and maintain a more stable axis of rotation.

These days, air arms no longer matter to the GOE. During the last UIS Manuals, arm variations are not listed as factors to consider when determining the GOE, although it is commonly erroneously believed that the old rule is still in place. Technically, arm position could be considered part of the “body position” factor listed in the judging standards, but that is not how it was intended. Still, you will see skaters jumping with their arms above their heads. Some may just enjoy the challenge, while others may have learned their jumping technique when the old rule was in place and now feel more comfortable jumping that way than the more traditional way.

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