Thursday, 3 August 2017

Cross-Cuts Are Anything But Boring

George Meagher's illustration of The Anvil

In defense of the 'new judging system', the more frequent argument you will hear is, "well, when 6.0 was around, all they did were cross-cuts. Cross-cuts from one end of the rink, then a jump, then cross-cuts to another end of the rink and another." Largely owing to that argument, poor old cross-cuts have really been demonized in recent years and you know what? It is really a shame. They're as Canadian as a hot cup of Tim Horton's coffee on a cold Calgary day.

Before the cross-cut firmly established itself as the popular way to get from point A to point B in free skating, many skaters would simply get a running start or glide along in a Dutch roll in between dance steps and figures. Even the great Norwegian speed skater Axel Paulsen - the inventor of the Axel jump - did not lap around the rink a few times a la Evgeni Plushenko before he bounded in the air. The cross-cut was actually original known as the Anvil and as skating historian Nigel Brown explained in his gem of a 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", it "originated in Canada about 1870 and took its name from its outline upon the ice. Later the figure was known as the 'cross-cut.' It was discovered through the failure in the correct execution of the loop. Beginners today when learning loops frequently fail to get a perfect round curve, and produce a small straight cut at the apex of the loop. This is because the body is not in proper balance with the foot, the latter arriving at the top of the loop before the body, which causes a slight slowing up in the movement, when the skate slides back a fraction waiting for the body to catch up and swing round, the skate naturally follows it and the loop is made. However by encouraging this tendency of the skate to stop and slide in a straight line, the cut made at the culminating point of the loop could be made with certainty, and of considerable length. This was a cross-cut."

In his 1919 book "A Guide To Artistic Skating", Canadian skater George Meagher elaborated, "Up to a few years ago 'crosscuts' were known as 'Anvils,' owing, no doubt to the resemblance to a blacksmith's anvil... These figures, in which we find absolutely no change of edge but three changes of direction, have always been remarkable for their difficulty. Few skaters excel in them. To execute the 'Crosscut,' the skater begins on an outside edge with a curve, say, on the right foot. The curve, if completed to a circle, would have a radius of about two feet. When the skater has completed a semicircle, and would naturally make the complete circle, the right foot is drawn very sharply backwards in a perfectly straight line of about six inches, the skater then continuing forward on the outside edge, and crossing his former lines in two places... The balance foot swings backward with much force as the skater draws backward, and forward as he draws forward."


Special figures with cross-cuts as the main feature abounded in the late nineteenth century. Meagher described a "double-headed crosscut" (with the bottom part closed with a forward straight line), a Swedish Crosscut, double Swedish Crosscut or 'Reverse Canadian Crosscut' and a Rocker Crosscut attributed to one Lord Archibald Campbell. Many other variations of the figure abounded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and were mentioned in various skating books. They included the Diamond Cross-cut, Lebedeff Reverse Cross-cut and Sanders Reverse Cross-cut. Each included what we consider cross-cuts today as part of figure designs.

By the early 1880's, skaters like Louis Rubenstein were showing off their skill at Anvils in Canadian competitions and it's entirely likely (even probable) that it was he who introduced Russians Georg Sanders and Alexei P. Lebedeff to the 'Reverse Cross-cut' or Anvil when he visited St. Petersburg in 1890. By 1892, the New England Association was including 'curved angles - cross cuts or anvils' among its lists of competitive elements and an article from the December 13, 1896 issue of the "Brooklyn Eagle" boasted that Meagher could do "over one hundred anvils... without stopping." 

Perhaps most amusing when you think at how much smack talk goes on towards programs full of cross-cuts under the IJS system is that back in the day, they were frowned upon too... but for different reasons. John E. Nitchie noted that cross-cuts or Anvils were considered a 'trick figure' once upon a time. Many late nineteenth century skaters simply considered them to much of a novelty or even too difficult to practice. Even the great German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel once said of cross-cuts, "They are not pretty figures but are sometimes useful in embellishing a skating programme through their oddity."

History sometimes forces us to look at things from a different perspective. What was once new, novel, difficult and odd is now considered old school, boring, simplistic and commonplace. Whatever your views are on the construction of programs under 'the new system', the fact remains that a program full of cross-cuts was a program was indeed a program full of figures. 

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