Figure skating is a sport that showcases ice skaters performing specific elements and freestyle movements accompanied by music. In the Olympics, figure skaters are judged on their ability to complete the jumps, spins, and footwork incorporated into their program.
Figure skating has a long and storied history in the Olympics, being included in 25 Olympic Games so far. Figure skating was one of the first events to allow women competitors and was the only winter Olympic sport that allowed women to compete until 1936. Today, women’s figure skating is one of the most popular events of the Winter Olympics.
The History Of Figure Skating In Olympic Games
The birth of modern figure skating can be traced back to the innovations of two Americans: Edward Bushnell of Philadelphia and Jackson Haines, a Vienna-based ballet master. Bushnell is credited with creating skates with steel blades in 1850 that were able to maneuver easily on the ice. Roughly a decade later, Haines imbued the sport with elements of dance styles, like ballet, inspiring the graceful performances we see today.
Figure skating became part of the Olympics during the Summer Olympics of 1908, held in London. Its inclusion in the Summer Olympics was approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because it could be done indoors, but were delayed until October, nearly six months after the other events. Figure skating was also part of the Summer Olympics of 1920, held in Antwerp.
The first form of the sport featured four contests: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s special figures, and mixed pairs. The special figures category held its only contest during the 1908 Olympics. Russian Nikolai Panin won that event, giving Russia its first Olympic gold medal ever.
The first men’s singles event was swept by Sweden, with Per Thorén winning the bronze medal, Richard Johansson earning silver, and Ulrich Salchow winning the gold. The women’s singles and mixed pairs contests only had three entrants each, so each participant won a medal.
In the 1908 ladies’ singles contest, Dorothy Greenhough-Smith of Great Britain won bronze, Elsa Rendschmidt of Germany scored the silver, and Madge Syers of Great Britain won gold. Mixed pairs saw Anna Hübler and Heinrich Burger of Germany in the top spot, Phyllis Johnson and James H. Johnson of Great Britain coming in second, and Madge Syers and Edgar Syers of Great Britain coming in third.
The remaining three figure skating events were held again during the 1920 games. The contests were then moved to the Winter Olympics in 1924, becoming the oldest sport of the Winter Games. The contests were held in Chamonix, France that year.
Ice dance first appeared as a demonstration event at the Winter Olympics of 1968, held in Grenoble, and was added to the games in 1976. The team event was added in 2014.
Qualifying For Olympic Figure Skating
The IOC only allows a certain number of participants to participant in each event. For the ladies and men singles events, there are 30 participants allowed in each event. Twenty pairs allowed to compete and there is a quota of 24 ice dance duos.
There are some strict qualification requirements. Skaters must have turned fifteen before July 1 of the previous year to be eligible to participate in figure skating events. Only citizens of the member nations of the International Skating Union are allowed to compete. The athlete represents the nation they are a citizen of.
The skaters’ placements in the previous year’s World Figure Skating Championships account for nearly all of the Olympic spots allotted to countries. The remaining one-fifth of the Olympic spots go to the top athletes of an international competition held prior to the Olympic Games. For some of the games, the host country was given one entry in each figure skating event automatically, reducing the number of spots available for the international competition.
Figure Skating Rules And Judging
The winner of each event is the person or team that scores the highest marks from the judges. Different events have different ways to score points. For example, in the pairs skating event, the main focus is on how well the performers execute actions that they must do together, like lifts and spins. With ice dancing, judges look at the performers’ footwork, as well as their coordination with the music and each other.
There are six types of figure skating jumps divided into edge jumps and toe jumps. The edge jumps, with the edges of the skates pushing, include the Salchow, the loop, and the Axel. Toe jumps, with the toes of the skates initiating the launch, include the flip, the toe loop, and the Lutz.
– Salchow – A launch from one foot’s back inside edge while landing on the other foots’ back outside edge.
– Loop – A launch from the back outside edge of the skating foot, completing one in-air rotation, and landing on the same foot’s back outside edge.
– Axel – The only jump beginning with forward launch. Launch from the forward outside edge of the left foot, completing one and one-half in-air rotation, and land on the back outside edge of the right foot.
– Flip – A launch from the back inside edge of one foot, landing on the back outside edge of the other foot.
– Toe loop –A pick-assisted launch backward from the outside edge of one skate, completing one in-air rotation, and finishing on the outside edge of the same skate.
– Lutz – A pick-assisted jump starting from the outside edge of one foot and landing on the outside edge of the opposite foot.
For both men and women’s singles, the athletes are scored on their footwork, choreography, timing, and overall execution. Difficult maneuvers performed correctly earn higher marks. The performance must vary throughout the program, with specific moves having limits on how often they can be in a single performance. There are also restrictions on the types of music that can be used and the types of costumes that can be worn.
The men and women’s singles athletes must perform both a short program and a free skate. The short program is a performance lasting just under three minutes that must incorporate eight different elements in an order of the athlete’s choosing. The free skate is for the figure skaters’ most complex moves, lasting four minutes for women and four and a half minutes for men.
In the ice dancing event, athletes are tasked with executing a compulsory dance and an original dance. The compulsory dance requires all the participants to perform the same dance containing a set of required elements. The original dance allows the participants to provide their own interpretation of a specific theme.
The team event is held in two parts: a qualification round and a finals round. The team consists of one men’s single skater, one ladies’ single skater, one pair, and one ice dance couple, each skating their short program for the qualification round. Up to two skaters or couples can be replaced before the finals round. The finals round has each skater or couple performing their short program. Placement points are used to determine the results.
There has also been an effort to get synchronized skating added to the Olympics. In synchronized skating, up to 20 skaters compete as one gender-neutral team to perform special required elements. These elements can include forming a circle or wheel, creating lines and intersections, and forming blocks. While the popularity of synchronized skating has steadily risen over the past four decades, it still has not been cleared for inclusion in the Olympics.