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The sport of figure skating

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Physics of Figure Skating

Part one:

How does this sport relate to Newton’s Laws and Kinematics?

There are many different example of how Newton’s laws and kinematics apply to the sport of figure skating. Here are a few examples of how physics can be seen in skating:

Newton’s first law – a skater in motion will stay in motion unless influenced by a force – in result the object will not move or maintain a constant velocity. This is also known as inertia – and it’s why ice skaters stay in motion unless they use force to stop themselves. (When motion isn’t being acted on by a powerful enough force of friction)

Newton’s second law – force = acceleration x mass. A force acting on a skater will cause an acceleration of the skater in the direction of the force and proportional to the strength of the force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the skater. This means that if the skater exerts a small force, the result will be a small acceleration. If the skater exerts a large force, there will be a large acceleration. The more mass a skater has, the result will be less acceleration, unless a greater force is exerted. The harder a skater pushes off the ice with her blade, the faster and father she glides.

Newton’s third law

Newton’s third law of motion is probably the most well know – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is what allows a figure skater to move across the ice. When they push off against the ice with their skates, they are applying a force down against the ice. The ice pushes back, exerting a force forward and up that pushes the skater forward or up into the air. The skater can glide easily because the friction between the ice and the blade of the skate is very small and can easily be overcome.

Gravity

The force of gravity on earth is 9.80 [down] Gravity is what brings the skater down back onto the ice after a jump.

Inertia

As a skater extends her arms, they are increasing the distance to the center of mass and rotation of her body and increase their moment of inertia. As a result, it takes more energy to make her spin faster. But when her arms are closer to the body, the moment of inertia is increased as her arms are pulled in, because her mass is closer to the center of rotation, and this makes it much easier for her to spin.

Part Two:

Explain how the shoes for this sport are designed to optimize performance.

The blades on a figure skate are what allow a figure skater to glide gracefully across the ice. They enable a skater to encounter resistance as they scrapes across ice. The blade of an ice skate has two edges. The edges closest to the inside are called inside edges and the edges on the outside are called outside edges. The edges have a concave hollow between them. The skater exerts a force from the either the outside or inside edge, onto the ice and the friction between allows the blade to grip the ice.

Water expands when solidified, so when skating, a skater is not actually skating on ice; they are skating on water in its liquid form. Putting pressure on ice melts it and creates a thin layer of water on the surface that makes it slippery. The sharp edge of the blade creates a high pressure on the ice and concentrates the whole weight of the body on a very little surface of ice. This forms a thin liquid layer that is enough to reduce the friction and allow a higher speed to the skate. Melted water from pressure and rubbing between the blade and the ice reduces the friction between them, allowing the skater to glide across the ice with very little effort.

Even when tilted, the two edges allow for a better grasp of the ice. The bottom of the blade is curved slightly and as the blade tilts to one side or the other, the edge that is in contact with the ice also curves. This causes the skater to turn. When the skates tilt to the right, the skater turns right, when the skates tilt to the left, the skater turns left.

This is an image of the blade of an ice skate on the surface of the ice. It demonstrates that tilting the blade causes the skate to turn.

Part Three:

Technology and advances in sports equipment have impacted the world of sports in different ways, but in my opinion, it does not make better athletes, it only creates better performances.

The sports technology industry attempts to apply scientific techniques in order to improve the performances of teams and athletes to achieve the best results possible.

But there is a difference between technology that allows athletes to perform better with the same effort and technology that is used as a tool to allow athletes to train better. For example there is a difference between a new bike that better overcomes wind resistance and a new, more precise timer that allows an athlete to better pace them when training.

Personally, I can’t see how technology that helps athletes train better takes away from any competitive spirit or talent. I think it adds a further dimension. But developments in equipment used to enhance performance are probably the exception. They sometimes allow unfair advantages to athletes that are well equipped.

The costs of sports technology is becoming high and as a result is disadvantaging those who do not have the money for such resources. In my opinion, this brings an uneven and unfair playing field.

While most of these ideas are arguable and others may have different opinions, I also wonder if other things could be looked at as to whether technology actually do benefits an athlete, or if it just changes an athlete’s mindset so that they believe something is benefiting them, when actually, nothing has changed.

For example, in the sport of figure skating, suppose a skater was handed a new pair of skates and was told by their coach that is was that they would allow them to jump higher, spin faster and balance on the ice without difficulty, when in fact it did not do any of these things, and ended up resulting in an improved performance. It instead allows looking at an athlete’s state of mind rather than technology behind a piece of equipment.


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