Figure Skaters Claim That Archaic Skate Design is to Blame for Rash of Injuries

Jackson Proflex Skate Boot
Jackson Proflex Skate Boot: A first step
toward better figure skating biomechanics?
[ Photo: Jackson Ultima Skates ]

I was really surprised at Peter Waldman's page one article in today's Wall Street Journal called Figure Skaters Blame Boot Design for Injury Plague. The article points out the number of severe orthopedic injuries that have occurred since the International Skating Union removed compulsory figures from major competitions in 1990.

Many elite-level participants in figure skating blame the lack of innovation in the design of figure skates for the increase in chronic injuries. They say that equipment improvements have failed to keep pace with the increasingly acrobatic nature of the sport. The article says, "The force generated from a typical skating jump equals eight to 10 times the skater's body weight.... Because figure skates allow minimal ankle flex, skaters land on the ice on their heels, absorbing the impact in their knees, hips and spine."

Designs that allow figure stakers to flex their ankles forward and backward have existed since at least 1995, but only one manufacturer has adopted them, Jackson Ultima Skates. Ultima ProFlex Boots have been used by Alissa Czisny, Amanda Evora, and Mark Ladwig in international competitions.

Waldman goes on to allege that Nike passed on the opportunity to invest in safer skate technology for figure skating, citing the small market for figure skating gear. Representatives of Jackson Ultima Skates say that the U.S. Olympic Committee passed on an opportunity to fund research because none of the manufacturers in the industry would agree to limit distribution of skate technology resulting from their investment to American athletes.

I'm most involved in ice hockey, mountain biking, and road cycling. I believe that the national and international organizing bodies of those sports are committed to athlete safety. I'm amazed that the organizations that play similar roles in the sport of figure skating have not acted in the same way. Figure skating may need the attention it gets on television from the acrobatic jumps that elite athletes can do. However, too many elite figure skaters are paying a price in terms of chronic orthopedic injuries for the issue to be ignored.

Thank you to The Wall Street Journal for bringing this to the attention of sports fans around the world. [ Subscription required to read most articles in The Wall Street Journal. ]