Why don't figure skaters get dizzy?
It's a head-spinning question that's one of the most frequently googled about the sport, so we asked Olympic figure skaters, including Team USA's Karen Chen and Mariah Bell, who with Alysa Liu are headed to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The answer? They do get dizzy. But practicing spins, getting used to rotation and, oddly enough, blinking, all help.
Here's what current and past members of Team USA had to say about getting dizzy, finding themselves in the air and counting rotations.
How do figure skaters not get dizzy?
"We do get dizzy, but we get used to it," Bradie Tennell, who won bronze with Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, told TODAY. "We just practice skating while we’re dizzy, and sometimes blinking a lot after you spin helps. So if I’m ever skating and you see me, like, blinking really fast, that’s why."
Chen said she gets especially dizzy after taking a break from her program.
"When I’m spinning, whether it’s a lay back spin or a flying camel spin, I do get dizzy, especially, if I don’t practice it. Like sometimes I don’t practice spins that much because of like my back or hip injuries in the past," she said.
If she goes a few days or a week without spinning, "I do feel dizzy. It's hard for me to focus and skate straight after that. And so I think the reason why I don’t get dizzy is just from practice and repetition over and over and over. My body just kind of adapts to what it’s like to see everything like roll around me. And while it’s rolling around me, hit all these different positions and making sure I hold the for a certain amount of revolutions."
Technically speaking, skaters get less dizzy if they keep the head aligned with the rest of the body to help their vestibular system maintain balance. Another trick is to stare at a fixed point in the distance after slowing down. But research has found that skaters learn to suppress feelings of dizziness without even knowing it.
Mirai Nagasu, who also won bronze in Pyeongchang, agreed it gets harder and harder if you don't practice.
“I would say that sometimes you have to spin facing down, like you’re looking down, and those are always the worst. You’ll see after a spin, skaters will just take a deep breath and reset themselves so that they can continue on with their program,” says Nagasu.
How do figure skaters count rotations?
Bell said counting positions in spins is tricky, but important. For some scoring, skaters must hold a position for a certain number of revolutions, so skaters must have awareness of where they are as they count.
"Sometimes if there’s something on the ice, like when we have the hockey circles or whatever, and there’s a color or there’s a logo, that kind of helps me figure out where I’ve started. But a lot of it is based off of feeling, which isn’t always the best, or if I know I’m counting a little bit slower than I’m spinning that, that’s also good ‘cause I know I’m kind of giving myself a cushion."
What happens if you lose your sense of direction while spinning?
Chen said when she comes out of a spin, she knows which direction she needs to go — but even she can lose track.
"If I don’t quite know which direction is which, which way is which, I slow myself down for a few revolutions just to know which direction I’m going. ... Let’s say I’m hitting an ending pose, to make sure like I’m facing the judges. And so I’m not ending in a pose where my back is towards the judges or something."
How do figure skaters spin so fast?
Chen said to speed up, she tightens her position, then opens up to slow back down.
"I just sort of like open up because the tighter I get, the faster I spin. Right? So like after my last position, I can just sort of open up a little bit and then my spin slows down just the tiniest bit so that I can make sure I do my next move correctly," Chen said.
When you’re jumping and spinning, how do you keep track of where you are in the air?
"Sometimes I don’t, to be honest," Bell said. "But obviously with jumping we’re really used to it. Spinning, it depends like actually when you learn new spins, you’re definitely dizzy for a little bit and then you kind of adjust."
Eric Hamilton from NBC Olympics contributed to this report.