Figure Skating Warm-Ups Can Cement Confidence. They Can Also Cause Chaos.

Figure Skating Warm-Ups Can Cement Confidence. They Can Also Cause Chaos.

“I always used to feel very frantic,” said the NBC analyst Tara Lipinski, a 1998 Olympic gold medalist. “I was always wanting to get on the ice first, even for that extra second, just because there’s so much to fit in.”

Others aim to cut their warm-ups short, the better to send a pointed message of confidence to their competitors and any judges who may be watching from their rink-side seats. Before his programs last week, the American Adam Rippon spent the last minute circling the ice as if he were a short-track skater.

“I like to do laps because I feel it sometimes may make the other skaters nervous that I finished early,” Rippon said last month, “and I always smile at all the judges when I go by.”

Maé-Bérénice Méité, who is competing in her second Olympics for France, said the warm-up settles her mind.

“If you have some troubles, you’re more aware of what you’re doing,” she said. “And if you are good, you just have to keep going and be the same in your program.”

Skating etiquette calls for big jumpers to be afforded more space. Everyone is supposed to negotiate traffic on the ice like cars merging onto the highway. But as anyone possessing a driver’s license knows, there’s often one aggressive driver who will veer into another’s space rather than follow the zipper method for merging.

Near collisions, accidental or not, do happen in warm-ups, which is perhaps to be expected whenever two or more competitors are skating backward. Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who successfully defended his men’s singles title last week, collided with Han Yan of China near center ice during warm-ups at the Cup of China several months after his 2014 Olympic victory. Both skaters completed their long programs, although Hanyu skated with his head bandaged and fell five times.

Yuzuru Hanyu collided with Han Yan during warm-ups at the Cup of China. Video by white silver charcoal

Mishaps of that magnitude occur more often at practice sessions, which are an elongated version of the warm-up. Rippon said that during a practice a few years ago, he accidentally head-butted a competitor, who had to withdraw from the competition with a concussion. And Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, once required 21 stitches after her calf was sliced by the blade of a competitor who collided with her while landing a jump.

At an event in the United States during in the lead-up to the 2002 Olympics, Cohen brushed Michelle Kwan in the warm-up. By the time she became an Olympic medalist four years later, Cohen was known as a buzz-by artist who did not respect her opponents’ personal space. Cohen said she was aware of her reputation but added that she never took aim at anyone.

“You only have six minutes and everyone is aggressive with their space in order to get in everything they need to in order to feel prepared,” Cohen said in an email. “That can mean having to jump almost on top of someone to avoid having to circle and do it again.”

Most skaters, Weir said, would never think of intentionally trying to rattle a competitor during warm-ups because they are so focused on themselves, they’re oblivious to everything going on around them.

“Your entire life is on the line,” he said. “I’m not thinking at all about you. This is all about me.”

Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic men’s singles champion and an NBC commentator, said he competed against a few skaters “who would try to intimidate you, accidentally get in your way, accidentally pull your focus.”

But Hamilton said he was always too absorbed with “getting through my Rolodex of jumps,” as he put it, to be bothered. “I had a couple of competitors who would try to suck up all the air in the room, and it honestly didn’t really work,” he said.

The most overt show of gamesmanship that Hamilton said he ever experienced came after a warm-up. An opponent finished his program, and as he was leaving the ice, he looked over at Hamilton, who was skating next, and said, “in a very cocky way, ‘Well, now, you have to skate perfect,’” Hamilton recalled. “And I just looked at him and said, ‘No problem.’”

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