Figure skating is an athletic sport in which individuals, pairs, or groups perform spins, jumps, footwork and other intricate and challenging moves on ice. Figure skaters compete at various levels from beginner up to the Olympic level (senior), and at local, national, and international competitions. The International Skating Union (ISU) regulates international figure skating judging and competitions. Figure skating is an official event in the Winter Olympic Games. In languages other than English, figure skating is usually referred to by a name that translates as "artistic skating".
Major international competitions are sanctioned by the ISU. These include the Winter Olympic Games, the World Championships, the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the European Figure Skating Championships, the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
The sport is also associated with show business. Major competitions generally include exhibitions at the end in which the top-placing skaters perform for the crowd by showing off their various skills. Many skaters, both during and after their competitive careers, also skate in ice skating exhibitions or shows which run during the competitive season and the off-season.
Olympic sports in figure skating comprise the following disciplines:
Other disciplines of figure skating include:
Jumps involve the skater leaping into the air and rotating rapidly to land after completing one or more rotations. There are many types of jumps, identified by the way the skater takes off and lands, as well as by the number of rotations that are completed.
Jumps can be rotated in the clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Most skaters are counterclockwise jumps. For clarity, all jumps will be described for a skater jumping counter-clockwise.
There are six jumps in figure skating that count as jump elements. All six are landed on one foot on the right back outside edge (with counterclockwise rotation, for single and multi-revolution jumps), but have different takeoffs, by which they may be distinguished. The two categories of jumps are toe jumps and edge jumps.
In addition to jumps performed singly, jumps may also be performed in combination or in sequence. For a set of jumps to be considered a combination, each jump must take off from the landing edge of the previous jump, with no steps, turns, or change of edge in between jumps. Because of this, the only two jumps that can be performed as the second or third jump in a combination are toe loops and loops, because they take off from the right back outside edge.
In order to use other jumps on the back end of a combination, connecting jumps such as a half loop (which is actually a full rotation, but lands on a left back inside edge) can be used, enabling the skater to put a salchow or flip at the end of the combination. In contrast, jump sequences are sets of jumps, which may involve steps or changes of edge between the jumps.
There are also a number of other jumps that are usually performed only as single jumps and in elite skating are used as transitional movements or highlights in step sequences. These include the half loop, half flip, walley jump, split jump, waltz jump, inside Axel, and one-foot Axel.
Spins are a required element in most figure skating competitions, and they exist in all four Olympic disciplines.
During a spin, the skater rotates on the round part of the blade, called the ball of the foot, just behind the toe pick. Spins may be performed singly or in a sequence combining different types of spins.
Spins may be performed on either foot. Like jumping, skaters mostly rotate in the counterclockwise direction, but there are some skaters who rotate in the clockwise direction. Some skaters are able to rotate in both directions. For skaters who rotate in a counterclockwise direction, a spin on the left foot is called a forward spin, while a spin on the right foot is called a back spin.
Spins can be entered on the ice or through a jump. Spins that are entered through a jump are calling flying spins. Flying spins include the flying camel, flying sit spin, death drop, and butterfly spin. Flying spins may go from a forward spin to a back spin. A flying spin can also be performed as part of a spin sequence.
In pair skating, spins may be performed side by side with both partners doing the same spin or combination spin at the same time. Additionally, in pairs and in ice dancing, there are pair and dance spins, during which both skaters rotate around the same axis while holding onto each other.
Dance lifts are differentiated by the skating involved. There are seven kinds of lifts approved for ISU competitions. They are separated into short lifts and long lifts. There are many positions the lifting and the lifted partner can take to improve the difficulty of the lift. Each position must be held for at least three seconds to count and is permitted only once a program.
Unlike dance lifts, pair lifts are grouped by the holds involved. In ISU senior level competition, the man must rotate more than one times, but fewer than three a half. There are five different groups of pairs lifts, differentiated by the holds involved. Legal holds are Armpit holds, Waist holds, Hand to hip holds, and Hand to hand. There are two kinds of hand to hand lifts: press lifts and lasso lifts. The lasso lifts are considered the most difficult pair lifts.
Twist lifts are a form of pair lifts, where the lifted partner is thrown into the air, twists, and is caught by the lifted partner. The lady may do a split before the twist, called a split twist. This is not mandatory, but it increases the level of the element. The lady must be caught by her waist in the air. She lands on the backward outside edge. The man also ends the lift on one foot.
In both pairs and dance, lifts that go on longer than allowed receive deductions.
Synchronized skating teams are also allowed to perform lifts in the free skating portion of the senior division only. Lifts can be pair lifts (such as in a dance lift) or a group lift with two or more skaters lifting another skater. In a pair lift, no more than one arm may be fully extended above the head at any time. Acrobatic lifts are not allowed. To gain additional points, teams will sometimes rotate and/or move lifts across the ice.
Step sequences are a required element in all four Olympic disciplines. The pattern can be straight line, circular, or serpentine. The step sequence consists of a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes. Additionally, steps and turns can be used as transitions between elements.
The various turns, which skaters can incorporate into step sequences, include:
Other freeskating movements which can be incorporated into step sequences or used as connecting elements include lunges and spread eagles. An Ina Bauer is similar to a spread eagle performed with one knee bent and typically an arched back. Hydroblading refers to a deep edge performed with the body as low as possible to the ice in a near-horizontal position.
A spiral is an element in which the skater moves across the ice on a specific edge with the free leg held above the hip. Spirals can be performed while skating forwards or backwards, and are distinguished by the edge of the blade used and the foot they are skated on. A spiral sequence is one or more spiral positions and edges done in sequence.
There are many different spiral positions. The leg can be held to the front of the body, to the side, or behind. If the leg is held by the skater's hand, it is considered a supported spiral. If it is not held, it is considered an unsupported spiral. If the skate blade is held, it is considered a catch-foot position. The best known catch-foot position is the Biellmann position.
Spiral sequences are required in ladies skating and pair skating. They count as one of the required step sequences in the free skate.
The International Skating Union (ISU) is the governing body for international competitions in figure skating, including the World Championships and the figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games.
In singles and pairs figure skating competition, competitors must perform two routines, the "short program", in which the skater must complete a list of required elements consisting of jumps, spins and steps; and the "free skate" or "long program", in which the skaters have slightly more choice of elements. Ice dancing competitions usually consist of three phases: one or more "compulsory dances"; an "original dance" to a ballroom rhythm that is designated annually; and a "free dance" to music of the skaters' own choice.
Under the new system, points are awarded individually for each skating element, and the sum of these points is the total element score (TES). Competitive programs are constrained to have a set number of elements. Each element is judged first by a technical specialist who identifies the specific element and determines its base value. The technical specialist uses instant replay video to verify things that distinguish different elements; e.g., the exact foot position at take-off and landing of a jump. The decision of the technical specialist determines the base value of the element. A panel of twelve judges then each award a mark for the quality and execution of the element. This mark is called the grade of execution (GOE) that is an integer from -3 to +3. The GOE mark is then translated into another value by using the table of values in ISU rule 322. The GOE value from the twelve judges is then processed with a computerized random selection of nine judges, then discarding the high and low value, and finally averaging the remaining seven. This average value is then added (or subtracted) from the base value to get the total value for the element.
The program components score (PCS) awards points to holistic aspects of a program or other nuances that are not rewarded in the total element score. The components are:
The only exception is the compulsory dance, which has no choreography or transition marks because the steps are preset. A detailed description of each component is given in ISU rule 322.2. Judges award each component a raw mark from 0 to 10 in increments of 0.25, with a mark of 5 being defined as "average". For each separate component, the raw marks are then selected, trimmed, and averaged in a manner akin to determining a grade of execution. The trimmed mean scores are then translated into a factored mark by multiplying by a factor that depends on the discipline, competition segment, and level. Then the five (or four) factored marks are added to give the final PCS score.
The total element score and the program components score are added to give the total score for a competition segment (TSS). A skater's final placement is determined by the total of their scores in all segments of a competition. No ordinal rankings are used to determine the final results.
There are also skating competitions organized for professional skaters by independent promoters. These competitions use judging rules set by whoever organizes the competition. There is no "professional league". Well known professional competitions in the past have included the World Professional Championships (held in Landover, Maryland), the Challenge Of Champions, the Canadian Professional Championships and the World Professional Championships (held in Jaca, Spain).
The Ice Skating Institute (ISI), an international ice rink trade organization, runs its own competitive and test program aimed at recreational skaters. Originally headquartered in Minnesota, the organization now operates out of Dallas, Texas. ISI competitions are open to any member that have registered their tests. There are very few "qualifying" competitions, although some districts hold Gold Competitions for that season's first-place winners. ISI competitions are especially popular in Asian countries that do not have established ISU member federations. The Gay Games have also included skating competitions for same-gender pairs and dance couples under ISI sponsorship. Other figure skating competitions for adults also attract participants from diverse cultures and sexual orientations.
Ice dancers' blades are about an inch shorter in the rear than those used by skaters in other disciplines, to accommodate the intricate footwork and close partnering in dance.
Hard plastic skate guards are used when the skater must walk in his or her skates when not on the ice. The guard protects the blade from dirt or material on the ground that may dull the blade. Soft blade covers called soakers are used to absorb condensation and protect the blades from rust when the skates are not being worn.
For practice skating, figure skaters often wear leggings, tight fitting, flexible pants. In competition, women may wear skirts or pants, though skirts are far more popular. Women generally wear opaque flesh-colored leggings or tights under dresses and skirts, which may extend to cover their skates. Men must wear pants and may not wear tights.
Competition costumes for skaters of both sexes can be theatrical and heavily beaded or trimmed, and can cost thousands of dollars if designed by a top-level costumemaker. Although the use of flesh-colored fabric means the costumes are often less revealing than they may appear, there have been repeated attempts to ban clothing that gives the impression of "excessive nudity" or that is otherwise inappropriate for athletic competition. Many skaters also wear theatrical makeup and hairstyles during competitions.
While people have been ice skating for centuries, figure skating in its current form originated in the mid-19th century. A Treatise on Skating (1772) by Englishman Robert Jones, is the first known account of figure skating. Competitions were then held in the "English style" of skating, which was stiff and formal and bears little resemblance to modern figure skating. American skater Jackson Haines, considered the "father of modern figure skating", introduced a new style of skating in the mid-1860s. This style, which incorporated free and expressive techniques, became known as the "international style." Although popular in Europe, Haines' style of skating was not widely adopted in the United States until long after his death.
The International Skating Union was founded in 1892. The first European Championship was held in 1891, and the first World Championship was held in 1896 and won by Gilbert Fuchs. Only men competed in these events. In 1902, a woman, Madge Syers, entered the World competition for the first time, finishing second. The ISU quickly banned women from competing against men, but established a separate competition for "ladies" in 1906. Pair skating was introduced at the 1908 World Championships, where the title was won by Anna Hübler & Heinrich Burger. The first Olympic figure skating competitions also took place in 1908.
On March 20, 1914 an international figure skating championship was held in New Haven, Connecticut which was the ancestor of both the United States and Canadian National Championships. However, international competitions in figure skating were interrupted by World War I.
In the 1920s and 1930s, figure skating was dominated by Sonja Henie, who turned competitive success into a lucrative professional career as a movie star and touring skater. Henie also set the fashion for female skaters to wear short skirts and white boots. The top male skaters of this period included Gillis Grafström and Karl Schäfer.
The first World Championships in ice dancing were not held until 1952. In its first years, ice dance was dominated by British skaters. The first World title holders were Jean Westwood & Lawrence Demmy.
At the same time, the Soviet Union rose to become a dominant power in the sport, especially in the disciplines of pair skating and ice dancing. At every Winter Olympics from 1964 until the present day, a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold, often considered the longest winning streak in modern sports history. (In 2002, Russians Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze shared gold with Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, keeping the streak alive. Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin brought home Olympic gold for Russia in 2006.)
Television also played a role in removing the restrictive amateur status rules that once governed the sport. In order to retain skaters who might otherwise have given up their eligibility to participate in lucrative professional events, in 1995 the ISU introduced prize money at its major competitions, funded by revenues from selling the TV rights to those events.