Figure skating is a sport in which skaters perform a series of set movements on an ice-skating rink. The movements are performed as part of a program set to music that lasts several minutes. A program can include spins, spirals, lifts, jumps, steps, turns, etc. Programs are performed by individual competitors or by pairs of competitors, and points are awarded by a panel of judges. Competitions are held at local and national levels, and also at the international level. International competitions such as the World Figure Skating Championships and figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games are regulated by the International Skating Union (ISU).
Ice skating has been a popular winter pastime for centuries, especially in northern and eastern Europe. Before the invention of modern ice-skating rinks, people skated on frozen lakes, rivers and ponds. Figure skating gradually developed from this long tradition of ice skating, along with other sports like speed skating and ice hockey. The first known account of figure skating is A Treatise on Skating (1772) by the English writer Robert Jones, in which he describes a very formal and rigid style of skating. A much freer and more expressive style was developed in the 1860's by the American skater Jackson Haines, and it's this style that forms the basis of modern figure skating. In the twentieth century figure skating became more popular and competitive as movements and programs became more spectacular and athletic. National championships became major sporting events, especially in North America, and televised broadcasts attracted many viewers. The growing popularity of figure skating as a form of entertainment was further boosted by new forms like "ice dancing" and "synchronized skating" that appealed to mass audiences. Modern figure skating is both a popular spectator sport and a highly-profitable part of the entertainment industry. Live shows such as Disney on Ice constantly tour the world, televised figure-skating shows attract millions of viewers, and the world's top figure skaters can become highly-paid entertainers and celebrities.
EquipmentThe most important piece of equipment for skaters is their "figure skates". At the front of each blade on a pair of figure skates is a set of jagged teeth called "toe picks" or "toe rakes" that are used when executing movements such as jumps and step sequences. There's also a groove along the bottom of each blade that creates two distinct edges; the inside edge and the outside edge. Skaters learn to use these edges to increase speed and precision in various ways.
Elements and Moves
Elements are particular moves in a figure-skating program, such as jumps, spins, lifts, spirals and step sequences.
Jumps are moves in which a skater leaps into the air and then rotates his or her body. Most jumps are completed by landing on one foot and then skating backwards. The six main rotational jumps are called the axel, the salchow, the loop, the toe loop, the flip and the lutz. Jumps can be performed as individual elements, or one after another in a jump combination or sequence.
Spins are moves in which a skater rotates many times. The three basic types of spin are the camel spin, the sit spin and the upright spin. They can be performed as individual elements or in a sequence. Spins can be performed on either foot, and professional skaters can rotate 70 or more times in a single spin. They are required elements in all figure skating competitions, including the Winter Olympics.
Lifts are required elements in pair skating and ice dancing. Pair lifts usually involve a male skater lifting his female partner overhead while rotating. They include armpit-hold lifts, waist-hold lifts, hand-to-hip lifts, hand-to-hand lifts and hand-to-waist lifts such as the twist lift. In a twist lift, a male skater throws his female partner into the air and then catches her by the waist after she's performed a twist. Dance lifts, which cannot be above the shoulders, include stationary lifts, straight-line lifts, curve lifts, serpentine lifts, rotational lifts and combination lifts.
Step Sequences and Moves in the Field
A "step sequence" is a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes performed while moving over the ice in a straight line or while following a curved or serpentine path. The turns used in step sequences include bracket turns, three turns, mohawks, rockers, counters, twizzles and choctaws. "Moves in the field" are a range of other moves in which skating skills are demonstrated. They include spirals, spread eagles, and hydroblading, in which a skater moves over the ice with his or her body in a very low position, often almost horizontal to the surface. Step sequences and moves in the field are often used to link major elements like jumps, spins and lifts.
Formats and Scoring
Competitors usually have to perform two different programs. The first program, often called a "short program", includes required elements such as jumps, spins and steps. In the second, often called a "long program", skaters can express themselves more freely and perform more challenging elements and sequences.
A panel of judges is responsible for scoring, and they must give two scores for each program they judge. The first is the "total element score" (TES) in which required elements are scored for technical accuracy and execution. The second is the "program components score" (PCS) in which five additional components are judged: skating skills, transitions, overall performance, choreography and interpretation. After calculating the average TES and PCS, the two scores are added to find the total score for a particular program. All of a competitor's scores are added together to find their total score, and the competitor with the highest total score is the winner.
Jason Brown's long program in the Men's Singles at the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships (To watch in High Definition select 720pHD in Settings.)
Transcript (opens popup window that you can position as required)
Figure Skating at the Winter Olympic GamesFigure skating competitions have been held at the Winter Olympic Games since 1924. The five events now included are the men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating for male and female duos, ice dancing for male and female duos, and a team event. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, the figure skating competitions will be held at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi from February 6 to 22.
Researched and written for EnglishClub by Matt Errey