The Figure Skating Competitions at the Winter Olympics - dummies

The Figure Skating Competitions at the Winter Olympics

The figure skating event at the Winter Olympics tends to be one of the most controversial of all the winter sports. The scoring in Olympic figure skating is subjective, so there are always different opinions about how well a skater performs. Combine that with judge bribing scandals and competitors attacking each other and you end up with a ratings bonanza.

Figure skating has been a sport for hundreds of years. It began primarily as a technical sport in which skaters competed against each other to make precise figures in the ice. By the mid-1800s, skaters began adding music, costumes, and spins and pirouettes. The Olympics dropped the compulsory figures by the 1992 Olympics.



There are 9 international judges for each skating event. These provide scores for both technical merit and artistry. To prevent any more judging scandals, a secret and random drawing is held at the beginning of each portion of the event. This drawing tells the computer which 7 of the 9 scores to count. The judges don’t know.

Each element (trick) that the skaters perform is worth a certain number of points (the grade of execution or degree of difficulty). The judges give the skater points based on whether they completed each element. They also get an overall technical score that takes into consideration how hard the program was and the difficulty in the way the elements were put together. There is also a score for the artistic presentation of the performance. These scores are added together to determine the winner.

The 2014 Olympics includes five figure skating events: men’s singles, women’s singles, pairs, ice dancing, and team.


There is a singles figure skating event for both men and women. Each skater must perform two programs. The first program is the short program (2 min 50 sec.). It is the more technical of the two programs because it has a required number of elements that must be included. These elements include footwork, spins, jumps and combinations. The other event is the long program (also called free skate), which is 4 minutes for women and 4 ½ minutes for men. The long program is worth two thirds of the total score and needs to demonstrate artistry and creativity while incorporating enough elements to be competitive on the degree of difficulty.


In the pairs competition, couples (1 male and 1 female) work as a team to perform the two programs. Each pair uses lifts and throws in addition to performing synchronized skating movements, spins and jumps.

Ice dancing

Ice dance has its basis in traditional ballroom dance competition and likewise is subject to the same strict rules as ballroom dance. Dance teams are scored on their rhythm, musicality, precision and the way they interpret the dance. In ice dancing, pairs can only separate for a few seconds at a time and are not allowed any overhead lifts.

Olympic ice dancing is made up of three programs. There is a compulsory dance in which each team dances a prescribed dance pattern to the same music. Then, the couples skate an original dance that must follow a specific dance style, although skaters can create their own patterns and use their own music — the trick is to interpret the traditional style in a creative way, but still follow all the rules of the chosen dance style. The final program is the free program. This is the where the dancers can show off their originality. The long dance program doesn’t have to follow any specific dance style or pattern.


In Olympic figure skating, the team events comprise the top national teams, which go blade to blade for the honors. You’ll see free and short programs from singles and pairs, plus a short dance and free dance from singles and pairs. A figure skating team can be composed of two figure skaters (one male, one female), one sports pair, and one dance pair.