Defying gravity: new jumping contest to inject „a modern edge of daredevil athleticism” to the sport of figure skating

Remember when Surya Bonaly performed her famous back flip during the free skate at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano – even though the move was considered illegal and could only be done in exhibitions…? Well, if Surya was competing nowadays, she would be able to show her trademark element during a back flip competition taking place at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, two weeks from now, on June 26. But the Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge – a jumping contest at its debut – relies on much more than the back flip; designed by coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Audrey Weisiger with input from U.S. Figure Skating, the event wants to make figure skating even more attractive than it is, focusing solely on the competitors’ jumping abilities. Want a preview? Take the six-minute warm-up before the actual performances in ISU competitions, with skaters practicing their jumps and combinations, to the excitement of the audience. On a bigger scale, and featuring top competitors like Max Aaron, Jason Brown or Polina Edmunds, top judges – Michael Weiss, Kimmie Meissner, Rachel Flatt, and $ 30.000 in prize money, Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge is definitely an event to watch for. Ready, Steady… Jump!

by Florentina Tone

With Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge it’s all about the jumps – and jumps only; an official announcement says it loud and clear: „No programs/choreography will be used for the event”. As for the raison d’être of this particular jumping contest, the same document lists a few: „To inject the sport of figure skating with an event that appeals to the current millennial generation in the spirit of the X Games and Dancing With The Stars formats; to provide technical developmental opportunities to elite Team USA athletes where they can compete high risk elements in low key competitive events and gain experience before trying these elements in the Grand Prix events and other high level competitions; to provide additional funding opportunities for Team USA athletes with substantial prize money”.

For Michael Weiss, three-time U.S. champion and the first American to land a quadruple Toe loop in competition, one of the reasons above seems more relevant than the others: „This is a great way to challenge U.S. skaters technically. This event will help our athletes focus on their jumping skills with the goal of having more confidence when they compete internationally”.

Meant to increase the attractiveness of figure skating, placing into spotlight the athleticism of the sport, the contest was designed mainly for the U.S. athletes (the skaters in the International Selection Pool are the biggest stars), but foreign skaters are more than welcome to participate in the qualification round – the Broadmoor Open Jump Event – on June 25. The top-three senior men and ladies and the first place junior man and lady will advance to the second day of competition (Friday, June 26) to compete against U.S. international competitors. And now’s the time the fun begins…

Poster Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge

Quads, Axels, combos – a jumping feast for the audience
Get ready to make some noise on June 26, since Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge requires skaters to progress each round of the event through increasingly difficult elements, including quadruple jumps, triple Axels and jump combinations. All along the way, a mix of celebrity judges (former U.S. champions Kimmie Meissner, Rachel Flatt, Michael Weiss) and ISU judges will assess a Grade of Execution (GOE) for each jump/combo – using, pay attention!, a 1-10 scale, where 1 will be given for a „popping error of some kind”, while 10 rewards a „perfect” jump.

To put it shortly, according to the rules of the event, in the Semifinal round, skaters will have to select any three jumps from the following categories: Axel, Salchow, Toe loop, Flip and Lutz, with only one attempt per jump being allowed; the top 5 ladies and 5 men qualify to the Final round. In the Final round, skaters will perform a three-jump combination of choice, 2A or 3A and an additional jump of choice; top 5 ladies and 5 men qualify to the Championship round. In the Championship round, men will perform one jump element from each of the following categories: 3A combination; quadruple of choice; quadruple + triple combination or triple + triple combination; whilst the ladies will have to perform one jump element from each of the following categories: 2A + 3T; Half loop + Salchow Three-jump combination of choice; triple + triple combination of choice; top 3 ladies and 3 men qualify to compete in the Bonus round. In the Bonus round (and the final one), men will perform two quadruple jumps of choice back-to-back on opposite ends of the ice arena using the full ice surface – one of the jump passes may be done in combination; while the ladies will perform, if possibly, a 3A.

The highest combined scores from the Final, Championship and Bonus rounds will determine the top three placements for men and ladies. In case of a tie, a sudden death round between the tied skaters will be held: the athletes will complete one three-jump combination of their choice.

Sounds complicated? It really is. Not to mention incredibly difficult. And I haven’t told you anything yet about the back flip event, who could very well prove to be the most exciting for the audience: the skaters taking part in this particular contest will perform a back flip (with variations, for better scoring opportunities) and, in case of a tie, audience applause will determine the winner as decided by the referee. Looking back in the history of figure skating, the French Surya Bonaly was famous in her competitive years for her trademark back flip landed on one blade. As for Michael Weiss, who’ll be on the judging panel at the inaugural edition of the jumping contest in Colorado, he actually invented the „Tornado”, a back flip with a full twist, performed for the first time at the Hallmark Skaters Championship, in December 2002.

Since Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge is an event who features $30,000 in prize money, the top three ladies and men in the jumping event taking place on June 26 will be rewarded as following: $7,500 for the first-place winner, $5,000 for second-place and $2,500 for third-place finisher, whilst the winner of the back flip competition will be walking away with $1,000.

Jason Brown is listed among the participants at Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge; the photo shows him in Paris, at 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard

Jason Brown is listed among the participants at Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge; the photo shows him in Paris, at 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard

And if you somehow think this is a local, low-ranked event, you’d better take a look at the list of competitors; big names are on it. Among these, Max Aaron, Jason Brown, Richard Dornbush, Polina Edmunds, Mirai Nagasu, Courtney Hicks; not to mention the skaters considered to be the future of the sport in the United States: Karen Chen (2014 U.S. bronze medalist), Nathan Chen (2014 World Junior bronze medalist), Amber Glenn (2014 U.S. junior champion), Mariah Bell (2013 U.S. junior silver medalist), Bradie Tennell (2015 U.S. junior champion), Jordan Moeller (2014 U.S. junior silver medalist). As for the international skaters entering the qualifying event on June 25 (alongside other U.S. competitors), one can find Liam Firus (2014 Canadian national bronze medalist) or Brendan Kerry (2012 Australian national champion).