SPORTS

Canadian coach Leigh teaches young skaters with a few taps on her laptop

03/11/2013 11:59 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT
Michelle Leigh has all the best jumps from the world's top skaters within a couple of key strokes.

What's the air time, distance covered and precise body positioning of Patrick Chan's quadruple toe loop? She can tell you in a matter of seconds, and a couple of taps on her laptop.

The figure skating coach is a Dartfish specialist, one of just a half-dozen in Canada who use the motion analysis computer program to teach some of the country's top young athletes. It's also the program that Patrick Chan credits with learning the quad that propelled him to two world titles.

"It helps me simplify what I'm teaching," Leigh says. "You can get right to the point and say to a skater 'You need to do this. Exactly this.'"

Leigh has more than three decades of coaching experience, and has worked with some of the world's best skaters including three-time world champion Elvis Stojko.

She learned Dartfish in 2003 to stay ahead of the coaching curve. The program, which is used by numerous sports and by athletes such as Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt, allows coaches to break down and measure motion frame by frame.

"Skating is a science, you have to do so much in such a short amount of time, you really need the tools," Leigh says. "You think you're seeing something, but when you're watching it in slow motion, you realize it's not what you see at all.

"Plus it helps the skater. They think they're doing something, and when you show them they're like, 'Oh. . . I thought I was doing something else.'"

The quad jump happens in the blink of an eye. Chan, who's gunning for his third consecutive world title this week in London, Ont., is in the air for just six or seven tenths of a second during a quad. He'll travel about two metres and at a height of about half a metre.

On this morning at the renowned Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont., where a large sign along one wall reads "You're Now in Quadruple Country," Leigh is helping 15-year-old Elizabeth Jour perfect a triple loop.

She videotapes the skater then the two head to the boards where they bend over Leigh's laptop. She pulls up video of rising Canadian star Kaetlyn Osmond doing a triple, and positions the two skaters side by side on the screen.

Leigh compares body positioning of Osmond and Jour frame by frame.

"Good girl. Awesome," Leigh tells Jour.

"This needs to be a little more in a straight line," she adds, drawing a line on the screen down the skater's bent leg. "I like this though, you've got your foot in the right place."

Chan perfected the quad using Dartfish with his former coach Kristy Krall. He modelled his jumps on Russian great Evgeni Plushenko. Now, male skaters use Chan as their model.

"Patrick is very strong, he's a great athlete," Leigh said. "But his technique is so efficient, and that's how he can perform quads, gets four rotations in a short amount of time. He creates a lot of torque on the takeoff, and after he leaves the ice, he's very quickly into the tight air position."

Leigh has a library of literally thousands of skaters' jumps — from as far back as Canadian Brian Orser.

Jour will model her jumps after Osmond, who will make her world championship debut this week. She also likes Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette, Italian Carolina Kostner, or South Korea's Kim Yu-na.

"It helps me visualize how they jump so I can perform it," says the Grade 9 student. "I can see how tight they are in the air so I can picture in my head how it should be."

Leigh tries to match her skaters with skaters to model by their body types. She also tries to pick skaters her athletes admire.

"I can say to them, 'Who do you want to see, who do you look up to, what is your body type like?" Leigh says. "I can always find something either to make corrections or encourage them, by saying 'Look, you're exactly like Joannie Rochette on this part of the jump, this is exactly right."

"And most athletes are students of the sport, they like to learn about it. It's kind of a fun thing to do, to use examples and try to do what other people are doing to be successful."

Dartfish claims that 95 per cent of the North American medallists at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics used its program.

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