Figure skaters use skates which differ slightly from hockey skates, to perform spins, jumps, and other "moves" on the ice, often to music. There are international competitions for figure skating, such as the world championship and figure skating is also an official event in the Winter Olympics.
It is usual in top womens' competition for most of the jumps to be triples. However, a triple axel is a very rare women's jump, almost all women only performing double axels. In top mens' competitions, the winners very often perform one or even two quad jumps. Quad jumps in themselves are very hard, so only the more simple jumps like toe-loops have been landed in competition.
The term 'figure skating' comes from a traditional element of the competition, compulsory figures[?], in which skaters used their blades to draw circles, figure 8s, and similar shapes in ice, being judged on the accuracy and clarity of the figures. This is no longer a part of modern figure skating competition.
jumps, spins, and step sequences. Jumps involve the skater leaping into the air, rotating rapidly to land after completing one or more rotations. There are many types of jumps, identified by the way the skater takes off and lands, as well as the number of rotations that are completed. There are also several types of spins, identified by the position of the arms, legs, and angle of the back. Step sequences are a required element in competition programs. They involve a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes, performed in either a straight line down the ice, or a S shape (serpentine step sequence). Spiral sequences are also required, and involve lifting the free leg to a position equivalent of the arabesque in ballet. Spirals can be performed while skating forwards or backwards, and are distinguished by the edge of the blade used.
The International Skating Union is the governing body for international competitions. The ISU oversees the World Championships and the figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games. On March 20, 1914 the first international figure skating championship was held in New Haven, Connecticut.
Pairs In pairs competition, many of the elements are similar to singles, but are performed side by side. Other elements include throw jumps, in which the male skater 'throws' the female into a jump, usually a salchow or axel; lifts, in which the female is held above the male's head in a number of different positions; and pair spins, where the pair spin while holding each other with one partner traveling 'forwards', and the other 'backwards'.
Competition format and scoring In a figure skating competition, individual skaters must perform two routines, the "short program", in which the skater must complete a list of required elements consisting of jumps, spins and steps; and the "long program", which as the name suggests is longer and also allows considerably more artistic freedom. Skaters are judged by an international panel of judges for "technical merit" (in the long program), "required elements" (in the short program), and "presentation" (in both programs). Contrary to popular belief, there is no mark for "artistry". The "presentation" mark includes factors such as ice coverage, speed, and posture.
The marks for each program run from 0.0 to 6.0 and are used to determine a preference ranking separately for each judge; the judges' preferences are then combined to determine placements for each skater in each program. The placements for the two programs are then combined, with the long program placement weighted more heavily than the short program. The highest scoring individual is declared the winner.
Skaters used to perform compulsory figures[?], on which they were judged as well. This part of a competition was rarely televised and is no longer a part of major competitions.
Figure skating is a very popular part of the Winter Olympic Games, with the elegance of both the competitors and the movements they perform attracting many spectators. Unsurprisingly, the best skaters show many of the same physical and psychological attributes as gymnasts. Many of the best skaters are from Russia and the United States. The United States is a traditional power in singles skating, in recent years especially dominant in the Ladies' event. Russia and the Soviet Union are dominant in the Ice Dancing and Pairs competitions.
The sport is closely associated with show business, such as "spectaculars" where performers skate unjudged, and the crowd pleasing routines at the end of competition held at many tournaments. Many skaters both during and after their competitive careers also skate in ice-skating exhibitions.
Many fans of more traditional sports find the judging procedures incomprehensible and the universal practice of judges attending competitors' practice sessions dubious in the extreme. It is also generally believed that judges often judge the competitors performance over many competitions rather than just the performance in the competition at hand - competitors must "pay their dues" by consistent performances before they are rewarded by the judges in major meetings. Disputes over judging are not uncommon - most recently, the pairs competition at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games ended in controversy when the Russian competitors edged out a Canadian pairing despite a major error and similar technical difficulty in the routines.
A related but separate event, ice dancing, removes the aerobatic stunts permissible in figure skating and concentrates on the aesthetics of dancing on ice.