Skills Tests and Competitions Push Skaters to Reach Full Potential

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Staff Writer

There’s a fine line between art and sport, and some choose to skate on it.

Freshman Ashley Udstuen was introduced to the ice rink by her dad, who began playing hockey in his youth. She played hockey for about a year before transitioning to figure skating.

“My whole family has been into skating, so I started when I was really young, about eight years [ago,]” Udstuen said. “Hockey is really important to my dad [because] growing up, [he] lived near a lake, and when it would freeze over, they would play hockey on it. My dad wanted to continue doing it and got my family into it.”

Udsteun competes in three categories of figure skating. Moves in the field consists of skills such as spirals and hydroblading that demonstrate basic skills and control of the blade’s edges. Ice dance is a choreographed dance routine performed on ice skates. She considers freestyle, which includes a program of jumps and spins performed to music, her favorite of the three.

“I have three coaches, all for different kinds of skating: moves in the field, ice dance, and freestyle,” Udstuen said. “If I didn’t compete, I think freestyle would be a lot more boring because there would be less of a reason to do it; I wouldn’t have anything to work towards or strive for.”

Udstuen also pursues the sport through a 15-member synchronized skating team, the Indian Hill Winter Club Crystals. In addition to competing, the group performs at halftime during Cincinnati Cyclones hockey games.

“The first time we did it, [there was] definitely a lot more stress, like, ‘Oh my god, there’s so many people!’” Udstuen said. “I think it’s pretty fun. Even if we do mess up, it’s not that big of a deal; we could do literally anything and they would think, ‘Oh, that’s so cool!’”

Junior Jessie Kong began ice skating when she was four years old. While she no longer competes, Kong improves her skills through official U.S. Figure Skating tests.

“There are different categories of skating tests,” Kong said. “You just keep testing in those categories until you pass all of them and go up through the levels. I have one more moves in the field test to pass. After you pass the last one, you become a U.S. gold medalist.”

Senior Cora Scully also participates in moves in the field and freestyle testing to challenge her skating skills. One aspect of this in particular that Scully finds difficult is being evaluated by official U.S. Figure Skating judges.

“You basically work on a group of skills that they give you,” Scully said. “Then, you go to a pretty intimidating judge session where you’re the only person on ice and a panel of three to five judges watches you. They ultimately test if they think you can go on to the next level or not.”

While competitions can be stressful, Kong said testing brings her a new level of pressure, specifically from the judging panel. Sometimes, her performance is affected by it.

“Tests are more nerve-wracking than competitions because failing a test means coming back to the rink the next day and having to work on the same skills that you’ve already worked so hard on,” Kong said. “Sometimes I feel a little shaky or want to rush through the performance, but sometimes the nerves can help me perform better. The judges are intimidating– they smile and act friendly, but we know they are very critical. It is stressful talking to them because you have to act like you are super confident even though you might feel the opposite at the moment.”

While some skaters practice recreationally, Scully said she does testing because she desires a more devoted approach. Testing allows her to perform in a more professional atmosphere.

“Testing is just kind of an advancement on what you can do with the sport in general,” Scully said. “Some people do skating just because they enjoy getting out there and being on the ice. But for me, I feel like a challenge is always necessary if you’re going to commit to something, and testing is one way that I challenge myself in my practice.”

Although she has had to cut back the number of competitions she does due to her busy schedule, Scully said she chooses to continue competing because she gets to interact with other skaters and study their abilities to improve her own. 

“I was on a synchronized skating team for around two years, and I traveled a lot with my team to do competitions with them,” Scully said. “I really like competing because you get the chance to not only meet other skaters, but you also get to learn new elements and see how you can improve by looking at how others skate and applying that to your own practice.”

Photos by Henri Robbins.