To prevent injury, the International Skating Union (ISU) bans certain complicated moves from the Olympics, such as the backflip, which was performed for the first and last time by American skater Terry Kubicka during the 1976 Olympics. Kubicka completed it without injuring himself, but the ISU still banned the move to prevent future injuries.
Skaters do get creative and design personal spins off already established jumps, but Zakrajsek said they have more or less maxed out their options in terms of designing completely new jumps.
"Skaters come up with creative jumps that they put in their routines," Zakrajsek told Live Science. "But I think they have pretty much maxed out the edges -- outside and inside, forward and backward, and the way you can rotate according to the rules."
In the future, figure skaters will push their personal limits by working on becoming more consistent with their quadruple jumps, which will require more nuanced and customized training regimes, Zakrajsek said. Such training would generally include muscle toning on and off the ice, but Zakrajsek declined to describe the regimes in detail since athletes consider their workouts intellectual property.
Richards, at the University of Delaware, has developed a system that helps hone skaters' moves, in which he attaches dozens of reflective sensors to the skaters' bodies and collects physical data while they jump. The data is processed by a computer model that digitally logs the skater's jump.
Richards can then slightly manipulate certain moves on the computer to show skaters how they might improve their height or speed by making a slight adjustment to their bodies, such as slightly pulling in their arms. This tool, Richards says, is also helping skaters become more consistent with their quadruple jumps.
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