Delaware leads way with figure skating technology
New tools invented to analyze and manipulate jumps for rotation and accuracy
Published: Monday, April 26, 2010
Updated: Monday, April 26, 2010 21:04
The current trend of integrating sports with science and technology has found its way to the university. Kinesiology and physiology experts have teamed up with U.S. Figure Skating to work on a project they hope will give American figure skaters a competitive edge in international competition.
Three preliminary trials with the technology were done at the university Thursday. The project uses motion capture technology that recreates a skater's jumps and allows them to analyze and manipulate the jump for increased rotation and accuracy.
The technology, which has been in the early stages for a year and a half, has only recently been tested with skaters. Among the skaters testing out the technology Thursday were Junior Pairs national champion Felicia Zhang and national Senior Ladies bronze medalist Ashley Wagner.
"It is all very much brand new," university graduate student Kat Arbor said. "Once it gets rolling we will be bringing in the top tier of U.S. athletes."
High Performance Director for USFS Mitch Moyer said the project is a collaboration between USFS, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Professional Skaters Association and the university.
USFS made an initial investment of approximately $500,000, and continues to spend about $50,000 a year in the program. He said the organization believes the innovative technology will prove to be a useful tool for coaches and skaters.
Kinesiology and physiology professor Jim Richards, who is leading the study, said the first step of the process is to record the skater doing a jump using markers which are placed on the skater's body according to the anatomical model.
"There are 10 cameras up in the ceiling, which are all operating at 250 frames persecond, and they see the markers," Richards said. "The software on the computer then reads the information from the cameras and figures out and calculates where those markers are in three dimensions."
The next step of the process is to transfer the data collected to motion analysis software, he said. The software, which was deisgned by university professor Tom Kepple, calculates all of the mechanical parameters important to the jump. A three-dimensional model is created from the calculations. It is then possible to manipulate various aspects of the skater's jump to determine how their body positions and movements can be altered to maximize jump rotation.
"We know how many revolutions they need to complete a jump successfully," Richards said. "What the software tells after we make a change is how many revolutions they would have done if they made that change."
Zhang, 16, has done a few trials with the technology. She said it has helped her pinpoint where she can improve her body position to achieve the correct amount of rotations for landing. She hopes continuing to work with the technology will improve the consistency of her jumps.
"I am able to see how every second of my jump affects how I land," she said.
Her coach, Jeff DiGregorio, said he believes the technology can help his skaters become their competitive best.
"The eye can only see so much," DiGregorio said.
He said the technology gives him a greater ability to make changes and try out various techniques with his skaters. He said he believes the technology might also reduce injury because body position adjustments can be tried with the computer model before the skater attempts them.
Richards said his interest in figure skating started when the Human Performance Lab was built behind the Fred Rust Ice Arena.
"They built our lab at the back of the Rust Arena, and when they built our lab they didn't build any restrooms into it," he said. "So, to go to the restroom, we had to walk through the ice arena."
Having no figure skating background, Richards said he was able to approach skating techniques in a way that most coaches are unable to.
"We looked at this from an entirely different perspective," Richards said. "I looked at it entirely as mechanics."
Richards said his hope for the program is to keep improving the efficiency of the technology. He said when the project first started running, the data collection process took 15 to 20 minutes while it now only takes a couple of minutes. He said eventually he hopes the collection can be instantly routed to the motion analysis software and the skater can watch the simulation model right away.
"The ultimate goal is to actually take these measures and send the skater home with the software so they can sit there and play with it," Richards said.