Figure Skating is a winter sport where individuals or groups perform with skates on ice. It was the first winter sport to be accepted in the Olympics. It was contested for the first time in 1908 Olympics in London. The four Olympic disciplines are men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pair skating, and ice dance. However, there are other figure skating disciplines that are not part of the Olympic program. Those disciplines are synchronized skating, Theater on Ice, and four skating.

Welcome to Figure Skating
Welcome to Figure Skating

Additionally, this sport is often associated with show business. Major competitions generally conclude with exhibition galas, in which the top skaters from each discipline perform non-competitive programs. Professional skaters participate when Figure Skating is in off-season. There are tons of competitions in which skaters compete. They start at the beginner level and go up to the Olympic level. These competitions can be regional, sectional, national, and international. The International Skating Union (ISU) is in charge of all the competitions. To learn more about figure skating, check their official website.

History of Figure Skating

The history of figure skating actually began with what we know as ice skating. There is evidence that it was used by ancient civilizations. Those civilizations were located in today’s Scandinavian and Russian region. However, modern ice skating appeared much later. Historians believe it was invented by the Dutch in the 13th century. They used frozen-over canals to maintain communication between villages in the winter. Additionally, they invented new skates. Initially the blades were made from bones. However, the Dutch started using a steel edge thus creating a sharper blade.


Still, the element of ballet and dance was added almost 6 centuries later. By the late 19th century, the first World Figure Skating Championship was held in St. Petersburg, in the Russian Empire. As such, the sport had its debut during the Summer Olympics in London in 1908. It was immediately accepted to be a part of the Olympic program. However, it officially became one of the first sports to join the first Winter Olympic Games in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium.

Equipment & Rules

The most important element for figure skating is the ice rink. However, the dimensions can be different, depending on the competition. For instance, Olympic-sized rinks have dimensions of 30 m × 60 m. Sometimes, NHL rinks are used and they are 26 m × 61 m. Additionally, the European rinks are 30 m × 64 m. Nevertheless, the ISU prefers that all figure skating events be held on Olympic-sized rinks. We have to mention that ice quality is judged as well.

Categories like smoothness, friction, hardness, and brittleness are judged. Factors affecting ice quality include temperature, water quality, and usage. Figure skating requires the ice to be at a certain temperature. It’s usually maintained between −5.5 °C and −3.5 °C. However, Olympic disciplines need softer ice. They are maintained at around −3.5 °C.

Jumps & Elements

Figure skating is a sport that has a lot of elements. The main moves are jumps, spins, and lifts. However, there are several different version of each element. Jumps involve the skater leaping into the air and rotating rapidly to land after completing one or more rotations. The jumps are divided in three categories:

  • Toe jumps – (toe loop, flip, lutz);
  • Edge jumps – (salchow, look, axel);
  • Other jumps – (ballet jump, half loop, half flip, walley jump, waltz jump, inside axel, one-foot axel, and split jump).

On the other hand, there are different spins as well. Skaters can do upright spins, sit spins, and camel spins. Last but not least, we have to mention the lifts in figure skating. There are couple dozen lifts that can be done, both in individual and group events. However, they can be categorized in several groups. There are pair lifts, twist lifts, long lifts, and short lifts. The last two are called dance lifts.

Rules & Scoring

Due to the many elements it has, the scoring rules for figure skating were changed a lot of times. The frequent changes led to a lot of controversy during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Because of that, the ISU accepted the International Judging System (IJS). With the IJS all the competitions are judged by the same rules. Under the IJS, points are awarded individually for each skating element. The sum of these points is the total element score (TES). Each element is judged separately. There is a technical specialist who looks at the element. That person identifies the specific element and determines its base value.

After the specialist gives his decision, there are 12 more judges who give points. Every judge awards a mark for the quality and execution of the element. Additionally, there is a program components score (PCS). Here, the holistic aspects of a program or other nuances. These components in Figure skating are:

  1. Skating skills (SS)
  2. Transitions (TR);
  3. Performance/Execution (PE);
  4. Choreography (CH);
  5. Interpretation (IN).

When you combine the TES and PCS, you get the total score (TSS). The skater’s final placement is determined by the TSS. However, skaters also collect points for the World standings. All ISU competitions in the current and the past two seasons count towards the World standings.

Figure Skating Equipment & Music

Skaters are allowed to pick their own outfits. However, there are some restrictions. The skates are the only important piece of equipment. Females may wear a dress or trousers. Additionally, they can wear leggings, tights, and skirts. The men must wear trousers. Matching outfits are not required for pair skating. The ISU figure skating rules are not very strict. They only expect the skaters to wear modest clothing.

However, there is something that’s very important in this sport. The skaters perform based on music. The sport is basically dancing with skates. In the past, only instrumental music was allowed. Vocals in the songs were also not allowed. However, since the 1997–98 season, the ISU changed the rules. Now, lyrics or words in ice dance music are allowed. Skaters may use professional music editors so that their music meets requirements. The music is very important because it’s also being judged.


There are a lot of competitions when it comes to figure skating. As we mentioned above, all are organized by the ISU. The Olympics are the most important event. However, there is also the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating. Additionally, we have to mention the ISU Championships. They are divided in four categories.

  • World Championships;
  • European Championships;
  • Four Continents;
  • World Junior Championships.

Last but not least, there are also international competitions. They can be local or regional. Most of them are controlled by the ISU. However, certain regional competitions are organized by the country that’s organizing it.

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