The Secret to Olympic Ice Skaters’ Power of Flight

Feb 26, 2018 | Bell News, Eye Health

Skating fast, jumping into the air, spinning two, three or even four times and landing on a virtual knife blade seems like a recipe for disaster for most of us. For those of us who strap on the skates only a few times a year, the result of attempting such acrobatics would probably result in multiple broken bones and an extended bout of traction. But Olympic level skaters seemingly make such jumps with ease, and if they don’t stick the landing, they usually bounce right back up and continue the routine.

So what’s the secret to the sorcery? Hundreds of hours of practice have helped elite skaters to rewire their brains to suppress the reflexes that result when we tilt our bodies at unusual angles. Reflexes that could result in flailing arms and falls for most of us are canceled out and the skater’s brain expects only delicate pirouettes and smooth landings.

And if you wonder how skaters don’t dizzy from all the spinning, their brains have learned to subdue a reflex, this time in the eyes. Normally, our eyes move to compensate for head movements so we can stare at the same point in space. If we twirl around and suddenly stop, we feel like we’re still moving because the fluid in the inner ear responsible for detecting movement continues to spin, making your brain think it’s still in motion. And because your eyes continue moving to correct your view, you feel dizzy. A skater’s brain learns to ignore the sense of motion and greatly reduce that eye reflex.