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Element of drama: A look at pairs throw jumps

Pairs skaters talk about mastering technique; Castelli, Shnapir plan throw quad Salchow

According to Amanda Evora, every pairs girl "loves to be thrown in the air."
According to Amanda Evora, every pairs girl "loves to be thrown in the air." (Getty Images)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(05/16/2012) - In most skating shows and competitions, daring pair elements like throw jumps get the biggest reaction from the audience. The male skater's assistance allows his partner to fly much higher and farther over the ice than she could if she jumped on her own.

To do a triple jump, a singles skater propels him or herself into the air with enough speed, height and rotational force to complete three revolutions and land. In a pairs throw jump, the man assists with the height as he throws the girl, as well as initiates her rotation. Uniform timing and direction are crucial: The skaters are doing it together so their timing has to be perfect. The girl completes the landing on her own.

"I was told, when I was learning it, that a throw is an assisted jump," the recently retired Amanda Evora said. "The guy is there to support you, not to throw you. I tell girls to forget the word 'throw.' They're doing a jump that's being assisted. Once you get that concept, you can use it in your control."

"It's an assisted jump for the girl," agreed Timothy LeDuc, who most recently skated with Cassie Andrews. "You're trying to get her into the air as comfortably as possible. She's the star. The throw is the girl's element, and the guy is just there to help."

Many other pairs skaters agreed that a throw jump should be thought of as a jump rather than a throw. On the other hand, a throw jump is very different from a solo jump.

"I really caution the girl not to equate her own Salchow to a throw Salchow," said Tayor Toth, who just started skating with Kiri Baga. "It's a completely different element. Some girls might think, 'Of course, I can do my own triple, so I can do a throw triple.' "

Toth says it's much better for the woman to treat the element as her own jump.

"Where you get into a hairy area is when the boy is the one controlling the throw. Then it depends on how the boy throws it," Toth said. "The more you can make the throw be dictated by the girl, as far as timing and initiating the throw, the better. If you make it her own jump, then she can land it."

Despite this, many female pairs skaters say that they are much better at throw triple jumps than solo triples, thanks to the assistance from their partners.

"I think throws and jumps are completely different," Marissa Castelli said. "People have this thing that if a girl can jump, she can be thrown. I was never a very strong jumper as a novice, but for some reason I could always do throws. Coaches say they look at a girl and they know if she can be thrown or not."

"It's easier to do a throw triple Salchow than my own triple Salchow because I have help," U.S. junior silver medalist Britney Simpson said. "It's not all me; it's a 50-50 thing, with Matt [Blackmer] throwing me correctly and with me doing my own jump."

Once the partner is launched, the man's job is mostly to stay out of the woman's way.

"When I let go of her, I can tell if it's going to be a good throw or a bad throw, depending on where it's released," Toth said. "The boy's job is to get out of the way and let the girl do her own jump. That's 'Pairs 101.' Sometimes she's trying to get through and you're in the way. Good guys move it."

"Sometimes I vocally call the word 'out' when she's in the air, to give her a better idea of when to check out and land," LeDuc said. "The timing is a lot different from where you're on your own because the girl's a lot higher in the air."

Different pairs use different technique for the moment of the throw. Sometimes the man holds the woman's hips, and she places her hands on his hands or wrists. In a solo jump, a skater uses his or her arms to initiate the rotation, so in a throw jump the rotation is mostly provided by the man.

"The girls can't reach out and pull in with their arms," Toth said. "We're holding on with them. There has to be tension -- you become her arms. She has to use you to get up into the air; she pushes off of you to pull her arms in and make the rotation."

Other pairs skaters, like Castelli, hold their arms out to the side for the takeoff.

"A lot of people do throws completely differently," Castelli said. "A lot of people do them with both hands on the hips, but I don't like that. Simon [Shnapir] holds my belly and my left forearm on throw Salchow, and I have both hands out to the sides.

"It depends what feels right to the girl. There's no one set way of doing anything."

Castelli and Shnapir have recently started doing throw quadruple Salchows, and they are considering adding the jump to their programs next season.

"I landed my first quad about two weeks ago," Castelli said Sunday. "I landed it the first day we tried it. I've been having issues with the triple sal because I finish the rotation so early -- I have huge hang time. Two weeks ago Mark Mitchell was like, 'Your sal is so huge, you can do quad.' And the next session he was like, 'I'll bribe you to do a quad.' We rotated it, and I was surprised how good it felt. I've been practicing them ever since and I love it -- it's a great feeling to fly through the air."

Unlike Castelli and Shnapir's speedy mastery of the throw quad Salchow, the process of learning a throw triple jump is usually slow and deliberate.

"We do a lot of walk-throughs of entries," pairs coach Bobby Martin. "It's a continuation of the skating move. If you're not balanced and in control getting ready, the odds of success go down. In the case of a throw Salchow, we do a lot of just the entry, at speed."

"I remember when I was starting out, the throws had to be really small so I could land them," Simpson said. "Now that I've gotten used to it and we've added speed, the bigger they are and the more time I have to land them. You start out really slow, not a whole lot of speed, and the guy can't throw you super high. He has to keep the throw close to the ice. When you start landing with a little bit of speed and you start training it in pattern for a program, your confidence starts building."

Martin also uses a jump harness for training throw jumps, not just at the beginning of the learning process but throughout the season.

"I use the harness a lot, to give the girl confidence in what she's doing," he said. "Even though she does the jumps off of it, we still train them in the harness, to give her a safe environment. If you're able to let the girl know the importance of keeping her healthy and safe, that does a lot to remove the anxiety."

As for the men, Martin says he gives them a limited task.

"We talk about him putting her in the proper angle," Martin said. "The man is holding on to her hips, so he can control the arc and angle of the throw, so she can find her feet. With the girl, we're managing rotation. I use Dartfish a lot, to measure the arc of the jump. I'll draw the arc and chop it into three pieces. The girl's job is to manage how she's turning in that arc. You have to finish soon enough to find your landing."

"It's a lot of muscle memory, teaching your muscles to come up and out after three rotations," Simpson said. "Your body automatically knows when it's done three rotations."

For non-pairs skaters, it's hard to imagine what it might be like to jump so high and far. Landing such big jumps does put a lot of strain on the tiny pairs women.

"I do very minimal numbers [of repetitions], because I think it's a lot of strain and stress," Martin said. "Every day Marissa gets up, thinking about rotating four times in the air, and that's daunting. We try to set expectations every day so she knows what she needs to do. We're not going to be doing an extra four or five throws that day."

"When you're first learning how to land throws, it can be a lot of pressure on your body," Simpson said, "But after a while, your body gets used to it. You're definitely more susceptible to injuries."

"I go through boots every three months," Castelli said. "I have to absorb so much force into my knees and my toe picks. I have to make sure my landings are precise. When you do a throw, you have to manage the rotation through the whole throw. I end up ending before I should, so I have to use my left leg as a parachute. It's like getting dropped off a three-story building."

Nevertheless, any successful female pairs skater finds the thrill of a throw jump to be worth the risk.

"I'm kind of a daredevil," Castelli said. "I love being thrown, I love the feeling of it, I love the height of it."

"A true pair girl loves that feeling, loves to be thrown in the air," Evora said. "I don't know any pair girl that doesn't love that feeling of landing a throw."