When we think of figure skating, oftentimes, we imagine the graceful movements on ice and the continuous spinning of the figure skater. But have you ever wondered how figure skaters can spin so fast without getting dizzy? As a child, we learn that spinning causes us to become disoriented or light-headed, whether it’s from spinning on a chair or the orbitron at the playground, the whole world would tumble once we stop spinning. However, figure skaters have the uncanny ability to spin rapidly without losing balance, what is the scientific reasoning behind this?
Why do we get dizzy?
In our inner parts of our ear, there are three fluid-filled tubes called semicircular canals. When we move, the fluid inside the tubes bends the hair cells that are connected to the nerve cells; messages are sent to the brain, giving us a sense of balance. However, when we stop spinning, the liquid continues to move due to inertia, confusing our brain to believe that we are still moving, causing us to feel dizzy and disoriented. Figure skaters like Nagasu, Chen and Rippon aren’t immune to these effects; their inner ears don’t behave any differently from us. No one can train those fluids not to obey the laws of inertia, said Paul DiZio, a neuroscientist at Brandeis University who studies balance, motion and dizziness.
How do figure skaters overcome dizziness?
According to Dizio, when Olympic-level figure skaters prepare for high-speed spinning, they adjust to an entire set of sensory inputs, habituating the brain to the sensation of dizziness. This all comes down to years of practicing. New figure skaters still get dizzy and lose their sense of balance. Nonetheless, coaches will teach tricks that can potentially help the figure skaters not to lose balance, such as fixing their gaze at one point at the end of their spin or maintaining a uniform speed.
Growing up, I love watching the incredibly talented figure skaters during the Winter Olympics. I often wondered why they don’t fall down after spinning at more than 300 revolutions per minute, experiencing the same RPM as astronauts in centrifuge training. Today, I learned that it takes years of practice. Others still get dizzy, but they handle it with more grace than most of us.