Jump Simulation Technology: Seeing is Believing

Susan D. Russell
Adam Rippon

A new research tool developed by scientists at the University of Delaware is starting to play a major role in helping american skaters improve their jumping technique.

Professor Jim Richards, simulation expert Tom Kepple and a research team have developed a technology that not only allows skaters to see their jumps in detailed replay, but also shows them how to realign their bodies to perform better.

A skater, dressed in a form-fitting black outfit that has metallic sensors placed at strategic points on the body, executes a triple Lutz on an ice surface surrounded by high-speed cameras.

In an adjoining laboratory, the skater and the scientific team watch the jump on a monitor. The image has been transformed into a faceless 3D model on the computer screen.

The variables are changed, the shoulders are adjusted and the model executes the jump again. This time, the rotation speed is faster, and the trajectory of the jump is longer. The skater now has an understanding of what adjustments he or she needs to make.

Two-time World Junior champion Adam Rippon is one of the skaters who has benefited from this technology. on his first visit to the Delaware research center last December, he acknowledged it helped to actually see how his jumps could improve after watching the simulation. Rippon referred to the faceless robotic animation on the computer screen as the “Tron Guy.”

“They don’t tell you anything that you haven’t heard before,” Rippon said with respect to the analysis. “For me, specifically, my elbows were out in the air on the jump. They put the ‘Tron Guy’ copy of me on the computer screen side-by-side with a copy that had the elbows adjusted.” This visual comparison helped Rippon understand what he needed to change in his technique.

He took the feedback from the Delaware team, went home and implemented the changes. in March, he returned for an update on his progress. The data from his December visit was put side-by-side with new data, so he could see exactly how the changes he had made had affected his jumps. The results inspired Rippon to test new waters. a week later he began landing the quadruple Lutz in training.

“Most of the skaters that we’ve evaluated recently are now landing the jumps that we were asked to help with,” Richards said. “Their success is a direct result of their participation in this project.”

The success of the simulation program in the first year has the Delaware team looking ahead.

Richards said that if they continue to receive support from U.S. Figure Skating, it might be possible to replicate the laboratory, perhaps somewhere on the West coast. The Delaware team is also working on a take-home version of the software so that skaters and coaches can review the analysis during training sessions.

Rippon said he learned a lot from the experience, and would love to bring his new quadruple Lutz to Delaware for analysis. “Having scientific proof of how one small arm adjustment can affect a jump changed my mindset.”

Originally published in October 2011