Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winning on the Turns in Speed Skating

His win in Vancouver makes Shani Davis the first male long track speed skater to repeat in an event at the Winter Olympics.

Watch the event here

All the experts say that Shani has the best turns in speed skating. He definitely looks like he can go faster than anyone else on the bends.

We decided to take a look at some video of Shani breaking the World Record for the 1500m in Salt Lake City in December 2009.

The high definition quality of this video allows us to look closely at his turns.

There are 3 things to look out for:
  1. In both the inside turn and the outside turn Shani increases his step rate (cadence) than that on the straight. He needs to do this so that he can make the turn, but the increase in step rate also ensures that he maintains his speed from the straight away and into the next straight.
  2. As his step rate increases his right arm swings in rhythm with his steps. This means that his arm swing rate also increases. In all sprinting sports, pumping your arms helps to maintain balance but it also powers you forward in the sprint.
  3. His inside leg pushes to the outside of the track with each step. As he pushes this left leg goes underneath the right leg, allowing him to apply more force to his push off for longer.

OK, so all of the top speed skaters skate like this right. What makes Shani so much better in the turns?

Shani at 6' 2" is a little taller than some of his closest rivals like American team mate Chad Hedrick at 5'11" and Dutch skater Sven Kramer at 6'1". Taller athletes will generally have longer legs. Leg length can definitely help when taking the turns. The extra leg length can add that little bit of extra time during the push on the ice.

But leg length is not going to help you if you don't use it to your advantage.
In the turns, it is also important to have great flexibility so that your inside leg can cross under the outside leg and keep pushing for longer. Shani seems to have gymnastics like flexibility and is able to push his inside leg far under his outside leg giving him more time on the ice than his competitors to push in the turn.

Flexibility though is of no use in speed skating without incredible strength. Shani's powerful legs allow him to continue pushing hard even when his legs are crossed over.

So Shani is the best skater on the turns because he uses his long legs, flawless technique and exceptional flexibility and strength.

Some athletes may never have the perfect physiology or anatomy to be the best, but one thing we can all work on is flawless technique. Video Analysis can help us achieve that.

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