Irina Rodnina performs a death spiral with the help of Alexei Ulanov from the Soviet Union during their free program 1972 Winter Olympic Games.

Figure Skating: The Death Spiral

The death spiral is a figure skating movement. It is unique to pairs skating.

In pairs skating, the male and female skaters independently perform a series of coordinated jumps and spins. As well, the female member of the duo can be lifted, thrown into a jump, or, in the case of the death spiral, held by her partner to perform an athletic and daring maneuver.

To execute a death spiral, both competitors glide along the ice. Then, by planting a toe of a skate blade into the ice, the male anchors himself into position. The toes of the blade often have a series of jagged teeth, which helps the blade dig solidly into the ice. Typically, the other skate will be positioned in front of the planted blade and at a right angle. By putting some of his weight along the entire length of the forward blade, more stability can be created for the male as he supports his partner.

The death spiral begins as the male faces toward his partner and, keeping hold of one of her hands, begins to crouch and shift his weight downward and to the rear. This allows him to maintain his balance as the female begins to spiral around him.

As the female partner glides around the male, she shifts her body so that her back is oriented toward the ice. In combination with her partner, she is lowered toward the ice and increases the radius of her circle around her partner while spinning. Finally, her body is nearly horizontal to the ice surface and her head thrown backward is almost touching the ice. Then, as her partner shifts his body weight forward and gradually straightens from the crouching position, the female decreases the radius of the circle, so that she spirals back up to a standing position.

If executed properly, the death spiral is a very crowd-pleasing movement. It requires great athleticism, strength, and balance from both skaters. As well, the female must place her trust in her partner, since without his support during the maneuver she would crash to the ice.

The death spiral is one of a number of required maneuvers in a pairs competition. The quality of the move is assessed by a panel of judges using a number of criteria and a series of marks allotted. These marks contribute to the overall score for the skaters' performance.

SEE ALSO Figure skating; Figure skating injuries.