Figure skating. Programs, eligibility, judging.

"Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches."

-- Alice Longworth
Figure skating. How does it all work?

What makes one jump tougher to do than another?

How do the Judges award the scores?

With the popularity of ice skating growing, especially during the Olympic games we thought we should help you to understand what it is all about.

Here is an amazing fact. Figure skaters will beat every hockey player in a flat out race. They even beat them skating backwards.

If you ever attend a professional hockey game and sit near the ice you will find the above statement hard to believe. But it’s true.

The reason for this is the hockey player is trained to use his power to accelerate in a quick burst of speed and to dart from side to side instantly. The figure skater is trained to glide with longer strides with less of the quick turns. They train to jump.

Figure skaters got their name from the compulsory figures they had to do in competition prior to 1990 when it was finally dropped. The skaters were required to perform figures tracing a pattern on the ice such as a figure eight. Not only that but they had to do it on the inside or the outside of the blade.

Once completed the judges would literally get down on the ice to check the tracing to see how close they came to perfection. Since figure skating is not an exact science, everything must be considered.

Points were awarded or lost if the figure went too far or there were additional tracings caused by wobbling or putting the other foot down. Skaters and audiences were no doubt extremely happy to hear they were eliminated.

The School figures competition was a part of the action because the judges were able to better judge the technical perfection than the current methods do. Technique is not as important today as skaters who may be weaker technically may still win.

Up until recently there were two categories of skaters.

Professional and Amateur. Only amateur skaters could compete in the Olympics. Professional skaters were barred. Times have changed as the cost of preparing to compete has risen so that today it can cost up to $45,000 per year.

Now amateurs are allowed to earn money, but only in eligible, sanctioned events. The old categories are no more. Now eligible skaters are able to compete in the Olympics and ineligible skaters have given up the right by competing in unsanctioned events.

Each country has a skating federation to govern which is an eligible event. Once an event has been given the blessing of the governing body, anyone can enter.

Some skaters who have had success at the Olympics may feel they would be better off skating professionally and retire. Others may have simply decided to retire due to time or money restraints of Olympic competition.

Becoming eligible for Olympic competition is extremely competitive and some skaters simply drop out and turn professional performing in such shows as Ice Capades and Disney on Ice.

There are two programs in competitive figure skating.

The short program lasts 2 ½ minutes. Worth one third of the overall score, consists of required elements that the skater may perform in any order to the music they have chosen. They have three jumps, three spins and two footwork requirements. Failure to execute any of these compulsory movements will reduce their score. A missed move is a lost move since the skater cannot retry a move.

The longprogram last four minutes and counts for 2/3 of the over all score. Judges allow a little more flexibility and there are no set requirements. Most of the competitors today include 6 or 7 triple jumps, several spins and combinations. Most men not only do the same but also do quadruple jumps during their free-skate program.

The judges then award points for a score. Two aspects are considered.

Technical mark takes into account the requires elements. It reflects the difficulty the skaters had to perform as well as the clean execution of the spins, footwork and jumps.

The Presentation mark reflects the flow, as well as the choreography and the balance of the program. It also takes into account the skaters ability to reflect themselves into the music. They must skate with speed, confidence and effort.


Figure skating is not an exact science and neither is judging. The scores can range from 0.0 to 6.0. Judges must take into consideration all of the various aspects involved in the program and make a scoring decision based upon the guidelines. Very rarely will an Olympic figure skating contestant obtain a score of 6.0.

Figure Skating site dealing with all sorts of skating issues.

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