Is there a more soothing sight in sport than figure skaters performing to a nice gentle melody? With an array of seemingly impossible jumps and flawless precision, it’s no wonder it’s been a staple in the Olympic Games for a century.
It actually featured in the line-up at the 1908 Summer Games in London before taking its place at the first Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924, where it has remained ever since.
The USA can boast the most success in the sport, having won 51 medals (15 gold, 16 silver and 20 bronze). However, the balance of power has shifted in recent years to Russia – known as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) at Beijing 2022 – and Canada.
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With legendary Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, among those who have since bowed out from the sport, Beijing 2022 offers the opportunity for new champions to start their legacies.
Nathan Chen - the three-time champion - was billed as the athlete to watch ahead of these Games, and he dominated the singles event. But the story of the figure skating thus far - for multiple reasons - has been Kamila Valieva.
The European and Russian champion - unbeaten in the Grand Prix this season - became the fourth woman to land a triple axel in Olympic history on Sunday, following in the footsteps of Midori Ito (1992), Mao Asada (2010), and Mirai Nagasu (2018). Then on Monday, she became the first woman to land a quadruple jump at an Olympics.
However, since controversy has struck - and there remains doubt whether she will compete in the individual event with the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) set to determine her fate at the Winter Olympics after she tested positive for a banned substance in December.
Elsewhere, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron's stunning routine earned a new world record in the first portion of the ice dance - the rhythm programme - ahead of the free section on Monday.
Unless you’re an expert, you’ve probably graded figure skating routines by how good the music selection is up until now. Here, we try and impart a little more wisdom so you can impress all your friends when someone’s under-rotated on their triple Axel. OK, we can’t promise to get you to that level, but here are a few useful things to know…
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Team GB participants and medal prospects
Five-time British champion Natasha McKay will compete in the women's singles as she makes her Olympic debut in Beijing. The Scottish skater has fought through some difficult challenges to earn her qualification with her local ice rink, the Dundee Ice Arena, closed for five months due to Covid-19.
Collecting her fifth British title also proved more difficult than necessary, with the wrong music being played for her first-round performance.
British ice dancers Lewis Gibson and Lilah Fear are aiming to cause a stir as they also make their first appearance at a Winter Games.
The pair were inspired to skate by the heroics of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean at the 1984 Olympics – the duo's Bolero routine arguably the most iconic moment in British Winter Olympic history.
Figure skating events and format
There are five events at Beijing 2022:
- Men’s singles
- Women’s singles
- Pair skating
- Ice dance
As the names suggest, singles is where a competitor competes individually and pairs is where skaters (a man and a woman) participate as a two. Both the singles and pair competitions consist of two segments: a short programme and free skating program.
The short programme, lasting two minutes and 40 seconds, has strict requirements including jump, spin and step elements. Given the brevity of the segment, there is little room for error. The free skate is less prescriptive but has a maximum amount of elements a skater can perform. Any more, and the skater(s) will not earn more points.
The ice dance is also for two skaters (a man and a woman) and features two sections: a rhythm dance and a free dance. Instead of competing jump and spin elements, this is basically ballroom dancing on ice.
To add some jeopardy, only the top skaters will progress from the short section to the long program (aka the free skate or free dance).
The team competition features all eight segments (two events for men’s singles, women’s singles, pairs and ice dance).
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How does figure skating scoring work?
This is where it gets complicated. Ready?
When a score flashes up on your TV/tablet/smartphone, chances are your eyes immediately dart to the ranking given it's hard to know what the number actually means. So how is figure skating scored?
Well, nine judges rate the skaters in two categories: technical score (TES) and programme component score (PCS).
The TES component sees the judges grade the difficulty level and execution of the various moves – jumps, spins and step sequences. Each move has a base value, with judges awarding points on a sliding scale depending on how it is performed. Once the points for each move are totted up, the highest and lowest scores are eliminated. The average of the remaining seven scores is added to the base value.
The PCS scale covers:
- Skating skills
- Transitions (footwork and movement that link all elements)
- Performance (choreography, emotion)
- Composition (how the arrangement is put together)
- Performance and execution (style, precision, personality)
Like the technical component, the top and bottom scores are wiped, with the remaining seven scores then averaged. Then to add to the complication, this score is multiplied by a factor that is different for men and women to give the PCS score. Basically, this is to ensure that the TES and PCS have equal weight.
The technical score is added to the PCS for the final score for each programme/dance. Given the various intricacies, it makes it rife for debate long after the scores have been given.
What are the jumps in figure skating?
Still with us? It might all sound complicated (because it is) but there are actually only six jumps in figure skating.
This is due to the limited options at a skater’s disposal – initial direction (forwards or backwards), entry (inside edge or outside edge), take-off (whether they use toe pick, the jagged part at the front of the blade) and foot choice.
There are then variations depending on how many rotations are performed, for example a double Lutz or triple Axel. With the exception of the Axel, all jumps have backwards entry.
- 1. Toe loop
A toe jump. Outside edge entry, outside edge landing on same foot.
- 2. Loop
An edge jump, very similar to the toe loop. Outside edge entry, outside edge landing on same foot.
- 3. Salchow
An edge jump. Inside edge entry, outside edge landing on opposite foot.
- 4. Flip
A toe jump. Inside edge entry, switch to opposite foot for take-off with toe pick, landing back on entry foot. N.B. Not an actual flip, sadly.
- 5. Lutz
A toe jump, very similar to the flip. Outside edge entry, switch to opposite foot for take-off with toe pick, landing back on entry foot.
- 6. Axel
An edge jump and the toughest of them all. It's the only one that begins with the skater facing forwards so it's easy to spot. Outside edge entry, outside edge landing.
Image credit: Getty Images
What are the new moves in figure skating this Olympics?
Is the quad Axel possible? For the uninitiated, it's a four-and-a-half rotation jump – and the most difficult move of them all. So difficult, in fact, that is has never been landed in competition.
Hanyu Yuzuru has long spoken about landing the move in competition, a feat that has never been done. Will he dare attempt it in Beijing?
How long is the long programme in figure skating?
The long programme, also known as the free skate, is much less prescriptive than the short programme. Previously, men and women had different lengths – but it has now been standardised to four minutes in all categories, with a 10-second buffer.
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Watch every event live from Beijing 2022 across Eurosport, the Eurosport app and discovery+
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