|MadSci Network: Physics|
Figure skating is a great example of physics in sports. Usually one can do pretty good by considering conservation of energy and conservation of momentum (angular and linear). Two important conservation equations are: angular momentum = (momentum of interia) X (rate of spin). linear momentum = (mass) X (velocity). Momentum of inertia is basically a measure of the distribution of mass from the axis of rotation. Bigger mass or mass spread from the axis means bigger momentum of inertia. Let's just consider two figure skating events: jumping and spinning. How do skaters start spinning? Well the most basic mechanism to create spin is to generate a torque with the feet by exerting equal and opposite forces with the two feet against the ground with some distance between the lines of action of the forces, or more common in ice skating by twisting with one foot against the ground (ice). The skater can achieve a great rate of spin by storing angular momentum in arms and the push leg and then pulling those limbs in close to the body. This maneuver uses torque to generate angular momentum and then pulling the limbs close to the body reduces the moment of inertia. The rate of spin goes up to conserve angular momentum. Jumping in figure skating can be aided by changing linear momentum into vertical momentum in a manner similar to pole vaulting. The skater builds up a great speed (which means big linear momentum) then the toe of a skate is pitched into the ice and the leg is used sort of like a pole in pole vaulting. Up to a point, the faster a skater moves going into a jump the higher and farther he/she will be able to leap. Angular momentum can be carried into the jump by applying a torque just like when spinning and when the legs and arms are drawn into the body the skater spins in the air. To land with a smaller rate of spin the skater opens up his/her arms and the non-landing leg. A bad landing happens when the skater fails to control the angular momentum upon landing. If you notice almost all jumps result in landings that then proceed in a curved arc allowing the skater to gradually control some of the angular momentum gained in the leap. Olympic skaters practice and practice to learn how to control momentum. Back in the 1980's triple jumps were considered the cutting edge of the sport. Now triple axels, triple toe loops, triple lutzes, and triple salchows are common. In fact triple jump - double jump combinations are a required element. Many skaters do triple jump - triple jump combinations as their best move. Some of the most athletic skaters can even perform quadruple axels in practice with little effort. Soon I suspect quadrupole axels will be common in competition. US skater Michael Weiss has landed a quadruple lutz in previous competitions and was a quarter revolution short on the jump in his Olympic performance. And a young Chinese skater was the first man to perform a quadruple jump-quadruple jump combination.To find out more about the different types of jump try the official 1998 Winter Olympics Site: www.nagano.com
Follow the tabs to figure skating. I hope these examples help you think about some other aspects of the physics of figure skating or even the physics of other sports. Sincerely, Tom "I Cannot Skate" Cull
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