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The Greatest Jumper

Midori Ito

Why Jumper?

The importance of jump in figure skating is too obvious to argue today. Figure skating has been and still is all about moving around on ice, so adding something like jumping off and landing back on the slippery ground would potentially result in catastrophic consequences. Moving on ice alone is difficult enough, but managing jumps on ice and connecting them to the subsequent moves carries a higher risk of falling, which will disrupt continuity and flow of the performance. Especially, risks that triple jumps poise are much greater than lesser jumps. Triple jumps, one of required elements in competition today, were first attempted around the 1970s, but, despite nearly half a century of its wide practices, triples remain extremely difficult to manage for most of today's female figure skaters let alone triples with good qualities.

Despite the insurmountable challenges triples imposed on skaters to this day, some skaters, against all odds, made their name for themselves as jumper. The greatest jumper regarded by many, arguably, might be Midori Ito. Some may prefer Elaine Zayak, whose jumping talent was derogatorily referred to as that of jumping bean; or Tonya Harding credited for landing triple axel in competition; or Linda Fratianne credited for being first triple jumper. Of course, before starting discussion of what to make a great jumper, we will need a definition of great jumper, first. Just for the sake of argument, suffice it to say that great jumper means a skater who demonstrates extraordinary jumping ability compared to her peers or whose skating is characterized by jumping elements in particular. So, let us be content that our focus lies on jumping ability and its relevant qualities when we are saying of great jumper, and when it comes to jumping ability, no one is comparable to Midori Ito.

Ito's jumps were characterized by off the roof height, speed and power, which even made her contemporary male skaters look dwarf. Up to this day, no skaters, male or female, has shown such unearthly scale of greatness as Ito did. The importance of jump won't be diminished in near future, and good jump is made of multiple sides to evaluate: takeoff, air position, rotation, landing, and transition after landing. There are also different kind of jumps required in competition to perform. More importantly, different kind of jumps ought to be connected to the subsequent moves and choreographic variations. So, being a good jumper is one thing, being a good skater another. Figure skating is a comprehensive sequence of various elements, in which skaters are supposed to demonstrate sync, integration, and harmony in all elements they performed.

Yuna Kim

Yuna Kim as Jumper

Yuna Kim: is she a jumper?

Not many considers Kim as jumper. But when Kim first debuted internationally in 2007, she was largely seen as a good jumper more than anything. It was the time when most female figure skaters were struggling to add triples into their artillery. Kim's signature triple-triple combination jump was famous for height, power and easiness. If you compare Kim's jump to Ito's, however, Ito's jump would win by miles in terms of height and power, but Kim's jump contains something Ito's doesn't. For example, Ito's jumps are vertically oriented while Kim horizontal, which can mean that if Ito's jumps are more disruptive to the skating, Kim's are more in line with it. This seems self-evident, though, considering figure skating itself is moving on the surface of a two-dimensional ice, and for skaters to jump they first need to break off their motion of skating and then manage to land back onto the ice as seamlessly as possible.

So, jumping as an action disrupts the motion of skating. However, that should not mean that figure skating discourages skaters from attempting triple jumps with great height and power. On the contrary skaters should try difficult jumps. After all, athletic merits really matter even in this aesthetic-conscientious sport. Only they should do so as long as their jumps are good enough not to disrupt the whole performance. That's where Kim is best at. Kim bases her jump qualities on how they are integrated into the subsequent moves and the whole program. That is, Kim knew her jumps ought to be done in a way that makes them seamlessly connected to other elements as part of a whole program, not as a primary element as if skaters were performing all other elements just to show off their humongous jumps. One for all; not the other way round. That makes a compatibility call for all skating elements to be performed by skaters.

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Obviously Ito's jump shows far great an advantage in power and height. Should we justify the term jumper without any tie with figure skating, Ito would qualify jumper better than Kim. But Kim's jumps are simply different from Ito's. Kim's jump travels longer in distance and Kim's takeoff speed may be as fast as Ito's, if not faster. Since 2007 Worlds where Kim had tried to win the title unsuccessfully, Kim grew fast and evolved dramatically. Especially, Kim showed a remarkable consistency in landing jumps in almost all competitions she entered, which her competitors in general lack. Skaters have a few lucky moments in lifetime when they succeed in landing in a fantastic fashion, but in Kim's case it would be rare for her to miss her jumps.

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