How Do Figure Skaters Qualify for the Olympic Games?

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Every four years, hundreds of figure skaters invest their time, money and effort in hopes that they will get to represent their country at the Winter Olympics. However, only a select elite few qualify to compete at the Games. The path that these elite skaters take to the Olympics depends on their individual event, their country, and how they fare against the competition.

World Figure Skating Championships
Countries earn a certain number of spots for their figure skaters to compete in the Olympic Games depending on how their Olympic hopeful skaters perform at the World Figure Skating Championships, often called Worlds. The maximum amount of Olympic slots each country can earn is 18: three each in women’s, men’s, pairs, and ice dancing.

In order to receive three Olympic slots in any figure skating event, the combined ranking of a country’s two best skaters or teams must add up to less than 13 total. If the combined ranking of the two best skaters for an event is between 14 and 28, that country gets to send two skaters to the Olympics for that event.

If the country has only one skater participating in Worlds, and that skater finishes first or second, the country then receives all three spots for that event. Similarly, if a country’s one skater finishes in the top ten at Worlds, the country earns two spots in that event in the Olympics.

Individual Slot Placement
Once a country has secured a certain number of figure skating competition spots, it must determine how to fill them with individual skaters and teams. Every country has a different method for determining who to send to the Olympics. Some countries have separate qualifying competitions, while some fill slots at the discretion of the country’s figure skating officials.

Many countries, Canada included, determine which skaters go to the Olympics based on their performance over their last several competitions, in order to ensure that the skaters they choose have the best chance of performing well at the Olympic Games. This means that doing well at Worlds does not guarantee a skater an Olympic spot.

In the United States the US National Figure Skating Championships serve as the qualifying competition for the Olympic Games. Skaters who place first, second and third in each category have a high chance of being chosen to compete in the Olympics. Occasionally a skater will be chosen for the team who did not participate in the National Championships due to extenuating circumstances, if she or he is in the top tier of competition.