Why don’t figure skaters get vertigo? We asked Olympians

Why don’t figure skaters get vertigo?

It’s a head-spinning question and one of the most frequently searched on Google about the sport. So we asked Olympic figure skaters, including Team USA’s Karen Chen and Mariah Bellwith who Alysa Liu are heading towards the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The answer? They have dizziness. But practicing pirouettes, getting used to spinning and, oddly enough, blinking all help.

Here’s what current and past members of Team USA had to say about getting dizzy, getting airborne and counting rotations.

How are figure skaters not giddy?

“We have dizziness, but we get used to it” Bradie Tennell, who won bronze with Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, told TODAY. “We just practice skating while dizzy, and sometimes blinking a lot after turning helps. So if I ever skate and you see me blinking really fast, that’s why.”

Chen said she was particularly dizzy after taking a break from her program.

“When I do pirouettes, whether it’s a lying pirouette or a flying camel pirouette, I get dizzy, especially if I don’t practice. Like sometimes I don’t practice not much pirouettes because of my back or hip injuries in the past,” she said.

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ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating – Rostelecom Cup (Getty Images)

If she goes a few days or a week without spinning, “I get dizzy. It’s hard for me to concentrate and skate right after that. And so I think the reason why I didn’t dizziness is simply due to training and repetition.” and again and again. My body is sort of adjusting to what it’s like to see everything rolling around me. And as it rolls around me, hit all these different positions and make sure I hold it for a certain number of revolutions.

Technically speaking, skaters experience less vertigo if they keep their head in line with the rest of their body to help their vestibular system maintain balance. Another trick is to fix a fixed point in the distance after slowing down. But research has shown that skaters learn to remove feelings of dizziness without even knowing it.

Mirai Nagasu, who also won bronze in Pyeongchang, admitted that it gets harder and harder if you don’t practice.

“I would say sometimes you have to turn face down, like you’re looking down, and those are always the worst. You will see that after a pirouette the skaters will just take a deep breath and reset so they can continue with their program,” says Nagasu.

How do figure skaters count rotations?

Bell said counting lap positions is tricky, but important. For some points, skaters must hold a position for a certain number of revolutions, so skaters need to know where they are because they matter.

“Sometimes if there’s something on the ice, like when we have the hockey hoops or whatever, and there’s a color or a logo, it kind of helps me understand by where I started. But a lot of it is based on feeling, which isn’t always the best, or if I know I’m counting a little slower than I turn this, that’s just as well because I know that I’m kind of giving myself a cushion.”

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating – French Open (Getty Images)

What happens if you lose your sense of direction while turning?

Chen said that when she came out of a spin, she knew which direction she needed to go, but even she could lose track.

“If I don’t know exactly which direction is which, which direction is which, I slow down for a few revolutions just to know which direction I’m going. … Let’s say I strike a final pose, to make sure I’m facing to the judges. And so I don’t end up in a pose where my back is facing the judges or something like that.

How do figure skaters spin so fast?

Chen said to speed up, she tightens her position, then opens up to slow down.

“I just like to open up because the tighter I get, the faster I spin. So like after my last position, I can just kind of open up a bit and then my spin slows down a tiny bit so that I can make sure I make my next move correctly,” Chen said.

ISU World Team Trophy - Gala Exhibition (Getty Images)

ISU World Team Trophy – Gala Exhibition (Getty Images)

As you jump and spin, how do you keep track of where you are in the air?

“Sometimes I don’t, to be honest,” Bell said. “But obviously with the jump, we’re really used to it. The rotation, it depends on the fact that when you learn new rotations, you definitely get dizzy for a little while and then you sort of adjust.”

Eric Hamilton of NBC Olympics contributed to this report.


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