The Axel is a forward take-off jump named after the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen, who first performed the jump in 1882. An Axel jump has an extra 1/2 rotation in the air due to its forward take-off. For a jump with counterclockwise rotation, it has a takeoff from the left forward outside edge and a landing on the right back outside edge; this can be reversed for a clockwise jump. The Axel can also be done as a double jump with 2 1/2 rotations, or as a triple with 3 1/2 rotations. No skater has yet accomplished a Quad Axel in competition.
To perform an Axel, the skater typically approaches the jump on a right back outside edge in a strongly held check position before stepping onto a left forward outside edge. He or she vaults over the toe pick of the left skate and "steps up" into the jump with the right leg. Then the skater brings the left leg through to cross in front of the right in what is known as a back spin position (similar to that for the Loop jump), to bring the center of rotation around the right side of the body; this is often described as a weight shift in the air. Uncrossing the legs on the landing checks the rotation and allows the skater to flow out of the jump with good speed.
It is quite common for skaters to skid the forward takeoff edge slightly, especially on double and triple Axels, rather than vaulting directly off a clean edge. The skid helps the blade grip the ice on the takeoff, and is considered acceptable technique as long as the skid is not so great that the skater pre-rotates the jump or takes off the back of the blade rather than off the toe pick. When the skater makes a mistake in the timing of the jump such that the blade does not grip at all and he or she slips completely off the edge, the result is what is called a waxel, often resulting in a fall.
Computerized biomechanical studies of skaters performing double and triple Axels have shown that skaters typically do not achieve quite as much height on the triple Axel as they do on the double. This may seem counterintuitive, since a higher jump ought to give a skater more time to complete the rotation in the air. Instead, on the triple Axel, skaters do not take such a big "step up" so that they can pull in to the rotation position more quickly.
- Axel Paulsen was the first skater to perform the jump named after him, in 1882. Curiously, he performed this feat wearing speed skates rather than figure skates.
- In the early years of skating, jumping was the exclusive domain of men. Sonja Henie is generally acknowledged as the first female skater to perform an Axel jump. Today, however, her Axel technique (preserved in her many films) would be considered very poor, since her jumps were badly pre-rotated without a "step up", giving them more the character of a jumped spin.
- Dick Button was the first skater credited with a double Axel jump in competition. He performed this at the 1948 Winter Olympics, although video footage of the jump shows that it may have been underrotated. Button's coach Gus Lussi was responsible for developing the modern Axel jump technique. In 1953, Carol Heiss was the first woman to perform a double Axel.
- Canadian skater Vern Taylor was the first to land a triple Axel in competition at the 1978 World Figure Skating Championships. It has since become a standard jump for male competitors, but it is rare for female skaters to successfully land them, or even to attempt them. The first woman to land the jump in competition was Midori Ito, who first performed it at the 1988 NHK Trophy. Since then four other women (Tonya Harding, Ludmila Nelidina, Yukari Nakano and Mao Asada) have succeeded in completing the jump in international competition, while another woman, Kimmie Meissner, first completed the jump at the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
- American pair skaters Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (skater) became the first pair to perform a throw triple Axel in competition at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and then made Olympic and ISU history landing it again at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
The jump with half a rotation from forward outside to backward outside is called a waltz jump or a three jump in some countries. Any other rotational jump with a forward takeoff is generally considered to be a variation of the Axel. These include:
- A delayed Axel is similar to a regular Axel, but the skater takes a very open body position on the ascent of the jump before pulling in to complete the rotation before landing.
- In an open Axel, the skater maintains an open body position throughout the jump without delaying the rotation.
- A tuck Axel has the same take-off and landing as a regular Axel, but the skater pulls the legs up into a tuck or sit spin position in the air.
- A half Axel is a jump with a regular Axel take-off but with only one rotation, landed forward (typically on the left toe pick and right forward inside edge, for a counterclockwise jump). This jump is sometimes also called a bell jump or a once around.
- A one-foot Axel is a 1 1/2 rotation jump with a regular Axel take-off that lands on the back inside edge of the takeoff foot -- the left foot, for a counterclockwise jump. This jump is sometimes known (especially in Artistic roller skating) as a Colledge, after 1937 World Champion Cecilia Colledge.
- An inside Axel is a 1½ rotation jump that takes off from a forward inside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the same foot – the right foot, for a counterclockwise jump. This jump is sometimes known as a Böckl, after its inventor Willy Böckl.
In addition, an Axel entrance can be used as a take-off for flying spins. An Axel sit spin is also known as a flying reverse sit spin, and is essentially an Axel jump landed in a back sit spin. Rarely, skaters may also attempt a double Axel sit spin. In a flying open Axel sit spin, also known as a death drop, the skater achieves an almost horizontal position in the air (by kicking the takeoff leg backwards and to the side, instead of bringing it forward) before landing in a back sit spin.
In general, the International Skating Union's new ISU Judging System discourages skaters from including variety jumps such as Axel variants in their competitive programs, because they count towards the maximum number of permitted jumps but carry a much lower point value than any double or triple jump that the skater could perform instead. Likewise, the IJS treats all flying spins equally and does not reward the additional difficulty of a double Axel sit spin.
A toe Axel is not a real jump, but is instead the name given to a flawed Toe loop jump.
- John Misha Petkevich, Figure Skating: Championship Techniques. ISBN 0-452-26209-7.
- Nancy Kerrigan, Artistry on Ice. ISBN 0-7360-3697-0.
- Dr. J. Dedic, Single Figure Skating. ISU, 1974.
- United States Figure Skating Association Media Guide.
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