Figure skating is an ice skating sporting event where individuals and mixed couples compete to try to perform the most spectacular and accurately-performed elements while skating to music.

Figure skaters use skates which differ slightly from hockey skates, to perform spins, jumps, and other "moves" on the ice, often to music. There are international competitions for figure skating, such as the World Championships and figure skating is also an official event in the Winter Olympics.

Table of contents
1 Jumps
2 Spins
3 Ice Dancing
4 Pairs
5 Competition format and scoring
6 Notable figure skaters
7 See also:


There are six major jumps in figure skating. All six are landed on a right back outside edge, but have different takeoffs, by which they may be distinguished. The two categories of jumps are toe jumps and edge jumps.

Toe jumps are launched by tapping the toe pick of one skate into the ice, and include (in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest):

  1. Toe loops, which take off from the back outside edge of the right foot and are launched by the left toe pick (toe walleys are similar, but take off from the back inside edge of the right foot);
  2. Flips, which take off from the back inside edge of the left foot and are launched by the right toe pick;
  3. Lutzes, which take off from the back outside edge of the left foot and are launched by the right toe pick.

Edge jumps use no toe assist, and include:
  1. Salchows, which take off from a left back inside edge. Swinging the right leg around helps launch the jump.
  2. Loops, which take off from a left back outside edge and land on the same edge.
  3. Axels, which are the only jump to take off from a forward edge (the left outside edge). Because they take off from a forward edge, they include one-half an extra rotation and are considered the hardest jump of the six.

The number of rotations performed in the air for each jump determines whether the jump is a single, double, triple, or quad. Most elite male skaters perform triples and quads as their main jumps, while most elite female skaters perform all the triples except the axel, which is usually double. Only a handful of female skaters have successfully landed triple axels in competition.

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 change of edge in between jumps. This limits all jumps except the first to toe loops and loops (which take off from the right back outside edge on which the basic six jumps are landed.) In order to use other jumps on the back end of a combination, jumps such as a half loop (which lands on a right back inside edge) can be used, enabling the skater to put a salchow or flip at the end of the combination.

Jump sequences are sets of jumps which may involve changes of edge between the jumps.


  • Camel Spin
  • Upright spin
  • Sit spin
  • Catchfoot spins

Ice Dancing

The term 'figure skating' comes from a traditional element of the competition, compulsory figures, in which skaters used their blades to draw circles, figure 8s, and similar shapes in ice, being judged on the accuracy and clarity of the figures. This is no longer a part of modern figure skating competition.Figures remain part of some governing bodies' test structures,and it bears mention that the technical rule book term for the separately tested discipline of jumps,spins,and footwork to music is free skating.

Competitors perform a variety of manoeuvers, which can be grouped into three main types -
jumps, spins, and step sequences. Jumps involve the skater leaping into the air, 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 the number of rotations that are completed. There are also several types of spins, identified by the position of the arms, legs, and angle of the back. Step sequences are a required element in competition programs. They involve a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes, performed in a straight line down the ice, in a circle, or in an S shape (serpentine step sequence). Spiral sequences are also required (in women's skating only), and involve lifting the free leg above the hip to a position equivalent of the arabesque in ballet. 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.

The International Skating Union - ISU is the governing body for international competitions. The ISU oversees the World Championships and the figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games. 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.


In pairs competition, many of the elements are similar to singles, but are performed side by side. Other elements include throw jumps, in which the male skater 'throws' the female into a jump, usually a salchow or axel; lifts, in which the female is held above the male's head in a number of different positions; and pair spins, where the pair spin while holding each other with one partner traveling 'forwards', and the other 'backwards'.

Competition format and scoring

In a figure skating competition, individual skaters 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 "long program", which as the name suggests is longer and also allows considerably more artistic freedom. Skaters are judged by an international panel of judges for "technical merit" (in the long program), "required elements" (in the short program), and "presentation" (in both programs). Contrary to popular belief, there is no mark for "artistry". The "presentation" mark includes factors such as ice coverage, speed, and posture.

The marks for each program run from 0.0 to 6.0 and are used to determine a preference ranking separately for each judge; the judges' preferences are then combined to determine placements for each skater in each program. The placements for the two programs are then combined, with the long program placement weighted more heavily than the short program. The highest scoring individual is declared the winner.

Skaters used to perform compulsory figures, on which they were judged as well. This part of a competition was rarely televised and is no longer a part of major competitions.

For the season of 2004, the ISU has launched a new judging system called the Code of Points. This judging system fundamentally changes the criteria by which skaters are judged. Each individual element within a program is worth a predetermined number of points and the elements are judged based on their execution. As of this writing, there is a great deal of uncertainty related to the execution, merits, an value of the new judging system. Three of the primary criticisms of the new judging system are that the judges mark are anonymous, the system was launched prior to robust testing, and a heavy reliance on technology that has no inherit "checks and balances" built into the system.

Figure skating is a very popular part of the Winter Olympic Games, with the elegance of both the competitors and the movements they perform attracting many spectators. Unsurprisingly, the best skaters show many of the same physical and psychological attributes as gymnasts. Many of the best skaters are from Russia and the United States. The United States is a traditional power in singles skating, in recent years especially dominant in the Ladies' event. Russia and the Soviet Union are dominant in the Ice Dancing and Pairs competitions.

The sport is closely associated with show business, such as "spectaculars" where performers skate unjudged, and the crowd pleasing routines at the end of competition held at many tournaments. Many skaters both during and after their competitive careers also skate in ice-skating exhibitions.

Many fans of more traditional sports find the judging procedures incomprehensible and the universal practice of judges attending competitors' practice sessions dubious in the extreme. It is also generally believed that judges often judge the competitors performance over many competitions rather than just the performance in the competition at hand - competitors must "pay their dues" by consistent performances before they are rewarded by the judges in major meetings. Disputes over judging are not uncommon - most recently, the pairs competition at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games ended in controversy when the Russian competitors edged out a Canadian pairing despite a major error and similar technical difficulty in the routines.

A related but separate event, ice dancing, removes the aerobatic stunts permissible in figure skating and concentrates on the aesthetics of dancing on ice.

Notable figure skaters


  • Brian Boitano
  • Kurt Browning
  • Dick Button
  • Steven Cousins
  • Robin Cousins
  • John Curry
  • Scott Davis
  • Todd Eldredge
  • Tim Goebel
  • Scott Hamilton
  • Ilia Kulik
  • Brian Orser
  • Axel Paulsen
  • Victor Petrenko
  • Evgeni Plushenko
  • Ulrich Salchow
  • Emmanuel Sandhu
  • Michael Shmerkin
  • Karl Schafer
  • Elvis Stojko
  • Alexei Urmanov
  • Paul Wylie
  • Alexei Yagudin



Ice Dancing

  • Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat
  • Natalia Bestemianova & Andrei Bukin
  • Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz
  • Oksana Grishuk & Yevgeny Platov
  • Marina Klimova & Sergei Ponomarenko
  • Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean

See also: