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Skating: Figure skating (pairs)

Tatiana Totmianina & Maxim Marinin

Winter Olympics guide - Pairs' figure skating

Olympic officials changed the figure skating judging system after drama in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier skated off the ice confident they had done enough to win gold after a seemingly flawless routine.

Instead they watched in disbelief as the judges' marks placed them second behind Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who had appeared to make some technical errors.

In the ensuing furore, a French judge claimed she had been pressured into favouring the Russians, and it was eventually decided that the two pairs should share the gold medal.


The key to pairs skating is timing.

The male and female skaters must mimic each other's movements as closely as possible as they execute a series of jumps, spins and step sequences.

The other big difference between pairs and ice dancing is that in pairs the woman spends plenty of time in the air, with the man carrying out a series of lifts and throw spins.

Competitors skate two programmes:

The short programme consists of eight elements: one hand-to-hand lift, one throw twist (double or triple), one throw jump (double or triple), one solo jump, solo spins (done in unison), pair spins, a death spiral and a spiral step sequence.

Performing to music, the two skaters have a time limit of two minutes and 50 seconds.

The free programme counts for two thirds of the overall marks.

Ice temperature affects skating speed - the colder the ice, the slower the skates will run

The free skate technically has no required elements, but a well rounded routine that includes lifts, jumps, spins and sequences is essential to a good score.

The team chooses its own instrumental music and choreographs a programme that includes technical and artistic moves that best display both the individual strength and the ability to perform as a team.

The time limit for the free skate is four minutes and 30 seconds.

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


A new system, introduced in the wake of the Salt Lake City judging scandal, made its Olympic debut in Turin in 2006.

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, there is now 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.

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. For pairs and ice dancing, it covers the balance between the performance of the two partners and the distance between them.

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

Interpretation/timing - reflects how well the skater works in time with the music. For pairs it is the unison, and for dance the relationship between the two partners in interpreting and skating in time with the music.

Once competitors have begun their program, they are not allowed to restart it completely.

However, the International Skating Union's official rules state that if a skater suffers unexpected damage to clothing or equipment, or if the referee decides medical attention is required, a break of up to two minutes can be taken.

This period begins immediately after the referee's decision is 'announced to the competitor', and they must resume their routine from where they left off.

If a competitor is unable to complete a program, no marks are awarded.

Skating guide

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