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Skating: Figure skating (singles)

Sasha Cohen

Winter Olympics guide - Ladies' figure skating

Ice skating is the sport that brings glitz and glamour to the Winter Olympics.

The high-speed steps, spins and jumps make for some spectacular action.

And the wait for the marks to be announced after a routine only heightens the drama.

The singles events often produce the most compelling viewing, as the skater glides around the ice knowing the slightest mistake or fall could be the difference between a gold medal and nothing at all.


Competitors skate two programmes:

The short programme consists of eight elements which must be completed - three jumps, three spins and two fast step sequences.

Performing to music, the skater can execute the elements in any order, with a time limit of two minutes and 50 seconds.

There are penalties for failing to complete an element correctly, and the 24 skaters with the best marks advance to the free skate.

The free skate forms the finale to the competition, and carries two thirds of the total marks.

There are no required elements, but the skater aims to impress the judges in a choreographed programme containing as many jumps, spins and step sequences as possible.

The women are limited to four minutes and the men to four minutes 30 seconds.

The marks from the two programmes are added together to reach a final total.


Turin in 2006 saw the Olympic debut of a new system designed to eliminate the risk of biased judging.

A row blew up when Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were awarded silver behind Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze
The Canadians had skated a seemingly flawless programme, while their rivals had appeared to make some technical errors
A French judge claimed she had been pressured into favouring the Russians
It was eventually decided that the two pairs should share the gold medal

This was prompted by events in the pairs competition at the last Winter Games in Salt Lake City, when the gold medals had to be shared after a judging scandal marred the event.

In the past, judges gave one mark for technical merit and one for artistic impression, with 6.0 the maximum that could be awarded in each case.

Under the new, more complicated system, each programme is now given a technical score and a score for 'programme components'.

Technical score

Each jump, spin, lift or step sequence is given a 'base value' before the competition begins. A triple axel, for example, is worth 7.5.

It is the job of a 'technical specialist' to decide during a skater's routine which move has been executed - whether it is a double or a triple axel, for example. Two assistants are on hand to correct any errors.

The first ice skating blades were made from wood, bone or antlers

As that happens, the nine judges - drawn randomly from a panel of 12 - each decide how well the element has been executed.

They use a scale ranging from -3 to +3. The highest and lowest of these nine marks are taken away, and the average of the remaining marks taken.

This average is then added to the 'base value' to obtain a mark for each element which goes towards the final score.

Programme components

The old artistic impression mark has been replaced by a set of five judging criteria, each with a scoring scale ranging from 0.25 to a maximum of 10.

Skating skills - reflects the general quality of the skating.

Transitions - covers how well the skater has executed the steps which link each element.

Performance/execution - assesses style, posture and changes in speed.

Choreography - how well the movements, steps and music work together as a whole.

Interpretation/timing - how well the skater works in time with the music.

Skating guide

Apart from the skates, all that is required in figure skating is a costume - but choosing the right outfit is a tricky business.

Costumes must complement the music and moves for maximum dramatic effect, and they are custom-made at great expense.

The more eye-catching, the better.

Men must wear full-length trousers, and the skaters' clothing "must not give the effect of excessive nudity for athletic sport".


There are a number of ice rinks across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where you can learn to skate.

Beginners are advised to sign up to one of the National Ice Skating Association's Skate UK courses, which are open to both adults and children and are delivered by professional coaches.

Details can be found on the NISA website.

Anyone who can already skate and wants to learn more advanced skills should speak to a registered NCCP coach when they visit a rink.

And for more news and information on the skating world, visit the International Skating Union's website.


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