The term "professional" in skating refers not to skill level but competitive status. Figure skaters competing at the highest levels of international competition are not "professional" skaters. They are sometimes referred to as amateurs, though some earn money. Professional skaters include those who have lost their ISU eligibility and those who perform only in shows. They may include former Olympic and World champions who have ended their competitive career as well as skaters with little or no international competitive experience.
In languages other than English, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, Polish and Russian, figure skating is usually referred to by a name that translates as "artistic skating."
The most visible difference in relation to ice hockey skates is that figure skates have a set of large, jagged teeth called toe picks on the front of the blade. The toe picks are used primarily in jumping and should not be used for stroking or spins. If used during a spin, the toe pick will cause the skater to lose momentum, or move away from the center of his/her spin. Blades are mounted to the sole and heel of the boot with screws. Typically, high-level figure skaters are professionally fitted for their boots and blades at a reputable skate shop. Professionals are also employed to sharpen blades to individual requirements.
Blades are about 3/16 inch (4.7 mm) thick. When viewed from the side, the blade of a figure skate is not flat, but curved slightly, forming an arc of a circle with a radius of 180-220 cm. This curvature is referred to as the rocker of the blade. The sweet spot of the blade is below the ball of the foot. This spot is usually located near the stanchion of the blade, and is the part of the blade where all spins are spun on. The blade is also hollow ground; a groove on the bottom of the blade creates two distinct edges, inside and outside. The inside edge of the blade is on the side closest to the skater; the outside edge of the blade is on the side farthest from the skater. In figure skating, it is always desirable to skate on only one edge of the blade. Skating on both at the same time (which is referred to as a flat) may result in lower skating skills scores. The apparently effortless power and glide across the ice exhibited by elite figure skaters fundamentally derives from efficient use of the edges to generate speed.
Ice dancers' blades are about an inch shorter in the rear than those used by skaters in other disciplines, to accommodate the intricate footwork and close partnering in dance. Dancers' blades also do not have the large toe pick used for jumping. Hard plastic skate guards are used when the skater must walk in his or her skates when not on the ice. The guard protects the blade from dirt or material on the ground that may dull the blade. Soft blade covers called soakers are used to absorb condensation and protect the blades from rust when the skates are not being worn. In competition, skaters may have three minutes to make repairs to their skates.
Off-ice training is the term for physical conditioning that takes part off the ice. Besides from regular physical exercise, skaters do walk-throughs of jumps off the ice in order to practice sufficient rotation and height of their jumps, and to practice consistency in landing on one foot.
There is significant variation in the dimensions of ice rinks. Olympic-sized rinks have dimensions of 30 m × 60 m (98.4 ft × 197 ft), NHL-sized rinks are 26 m × 61 m (85 ft × 200 ft), while European rinks are sometimes 30 m × 64 m (98 ft × 210 ft). The International Skating Union prefers Olympic-sized rinks for figure skating competitions, particularly for major events. According to ISU rule 342, a figure skating rink for an ISU event "if possible, shall measure sixty (60) meters in one direction and thirty (30) meters in the other, but not larger, and not less than fifty-six (56) meters in one direction and twenty-six (26) meters in the other." The scoring system rewards skaters who have good ice coverage, i.e. who efficiently cover the entire ice surface during their programs. Olympic-sized rinks make the differences in skill between skaters more apparent but they are not available for all events. If a rink has different dimensions, a skater's jump setup and speed may be hindered as he or she adjusts.
Ice quality is judged by smoothness, friction, hardness, and brittleness. Factors affecting ice quality include temperature, water quality, and usage, with toe picks causing more deterioration. For figure skating, an ice temperature of 24 °F (-4 °C) is generally preferred. Typically after every two warm-up groups, an ice resurfacer cleans and smooths the surface of the ice sheet. Inadequate ice quality may affect skaters' performances.
Some rinks use harness systems to help skaters learn new jumps in a controlled manner. The ice rink installs a heavy-duty cable that is securely attached to two walls of the rink. A set of pulleys ride on the cable. The skater wears a vest or belt that has a cable or rope attached to it. That cable/rope is threaded through the movable pulley on the cable above. The coach holds the other end of the cable and lifts the skater by pulling the cable/rope. The skater can then practice the jump with the coach assisting the completion.
Olympic sports in figure skating comprise the following disciplines:Singles competition for men and women (who are referred to as "ladies" in ISU rulebooks), wherein individual skaters perform jumps, spins, step sequences, spirals, and other elements in their programs.
Pair skating teams consist of a woman and a man. Pairs perform elements that are specific to the discipline such as throw jumps, in which the man 'throws' the woman into a jump; lifts, in which the woman is held above the man's head in one of various grips and positions; pair spins, in which both skaters spin together about a common axis; death spirals; and other elements such as side-by-side jumps and spins in unison.
Ice dancing is again for couples consisting of a woman and a man skating together. Ice dance differs from pairs in focusing on intricate footwork performed in close dance holds, in time with the music. Ice dance lifts must not go above the shoulder.
The four disciplines of men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating and ice dancing also appeared as part of a team event for the first time at the 2014 Winter Olympics.Synchronized skating (formerly known as precision skating) is for mixed-gender groups of 12 to 20 skaters. This discipline resembles a group form of ice dance with additional emphasis on precise formations of the group as a whole and complex transitions between formations. The basic formations include wheels, blocks, lines, circles, and intersections. The close formations and need for the team to stay in unison add to the difficulty of the footwork performed by the skaters in these elements. A formal proposal for inclusion in the Olympics was submitted by the International Skating Union to the International Olympic Committee in September 2014.
Fours, a discipline in which a team of four skaters, consisting of two men and two women, perform singles and pairs elements in unison, as well as unique elements that involve all four skaters.
Special figures is the tracing of elaborate original designs on the ice. It was a common discipline in the early days of skating and appeared once at the Olympics, in 1908.
Theatre on ice, also known as "ballet on ice" in Europe. This is a form of group skating that is less structured than synchronized skating and allows the use of props and theatrical costuming.
Adagio skating, a form of pair skating most commonly seen in ice shows, where the skaters perform many acrobatic lifts but few or none of the other elements which competitive pairs must perform.
Acrobatic skating, also known as "Acrobatics on ice" or "Extreme Skating", is a combination of circus arts, technical artistic gymnastics skills, and figure skating.
Each element receives a score according to its base value and grade of execution (GOE), resulting in a combined technical elements score (TES). At competitions, a technical specialist identifies each element. Elements may be assigned a level of difficulty, ranging from B (Basic) to Level 4 (most difficult). A panel of judges determines GOE, ranging from +3 to -3, based on how well the skaters execute the elements. The GOE is weighted according to the element's base value.
The ISU defines a fall as a loss of control with the result that the majority of the skater's body weight is not on the blade but supported by hands, knees, or buttocks.
Jumps involve the skater leaping into the air and 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 by the number of rotations that are completed.
Each jump receives a score according to its base value and grade of execution (GOE). Quality of execution, technique, height, speed, flow and ice coverage are considered by the judges. An under-rotated jump (indicated by < ) is "missing rotation of more than ¼, but less than ½ revolution" and receives 70% of the base value. A downgraded jump (indicated by <<) is "missing rotation of ½ revolution or more". A triple which is downgraded is treated as a double, while a downgraded double is treated as a single jump.
An edge violation occurs when a skater executes a jump on the incorrect edge. The hollow is a groove on the bottom of the blade which creates two distinct edges, inside and outside. The inside edge of the blade is on the side closest to the skater, the outside edge is on the side farthest from the skater, and a flat refers to skating on both edges at the same time, which is discouraged. An unclear edge or edge violation is indicated with an 'e' and reflected in the GOE according to the severity of the problem. Flutz and lip are the colloquial terms for a Lutz and flip jump with an edge violation.
In 1982, the International Skating Union enacted a rule stating that a skater may perform each type of triple only once, or twice if one of them is incorporated into a combination or sequence. For a set of jumps to be considered a combination, each jump must take off from the landing edge of the previous jump, with no steps, turns, or change of edge in between jumps. Toe loops and loops are commonly performed as the second or third jump in a combination because they take off from the back outside edge of the landing foot, or skating leg. To perform a salchow or flip on the back end of a combination, a half loop (which is actually a full rotation, but lands on a back inside edge of the landing leg) may be used as a connecting jump. In contrast, jump sequences are sets of jumps which may be linked by non-listed jumps or hops. Sequences are worth 80% of what the same jumps executed in combination would be worth.
Jumps may be rotated in clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Most skaters are counter-clockwise jumpers. For clarity, all jumps will be described for a skater jumping counter-clockwise.
There are six jumps in figure skating that count as jump elements. All six are landed on one foot on the back outside edge (with counterclockwise rotation, for single and multi-revolution jumps), but have different takeoffs, by which they may be distinguished. The two categories of jumps are toe jumps and edge jumps.
The number of rotations performed in the air determines whether the jump is a single, double, triple, or quadruple (known commonly as a "quad"). The simplest jump begins with a waltz jump which can only be done in a half-leap and is not classified as a single, double, or triple jump. Senior-level male single skaters perform mostly triple and quadruple jumps in competition. Triple jumps other than the Axel are commonly performed by female single skaters. Only one female skater, Miki Ando, has been credited with a quadruple jump in international competition.
Some elite skaters can complete a jump in about one second, with 26 inches of height and 10 feet in distance. The takeoff speed of a jump can reach up to 15 mph.
Toe jumps are launched by tapping the toe pick of one skate into the ice, and include (in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest):
- Toe loops take off from the back outside edge of the left or right foot and are launched by the same toe pick (toe walleys are similar, but take off from the back inside edge of the right foot);
- Flips, which take off from the back inside edge of the right or left foot and are launched by the opposite toe pick;
- Lutzes, which take off from the back outside edge of the right or left foot and are launched by the opposite toe pick.
Edge jumps use no toe assist, and include:
- Salchows, which take off from either the left or right back inside edge. Allowing the edge to come round, the opposite leg helps launch the jump into the air and land on one foot;
- Loops (also known as Rittberger jumps) take off from either the left or right back outside edge and land on the same edge;
- Axels, which are the only rotating jump to take off from a forward edge. Because they take off from a forward edge, they include one-half extra rotation(s).
There are also a number of other jumps that are usually performed only as single jumps and in elite skating are used as transitional movements or highlights in step sequences. These include the half toe loop (ballet jump), half loop, half flip, walley jump, waltz jump, inside Axel, one-foot Axel, and split jump. There are two kinds of split jump:Russian split, performed in a position that is similar to that of a straddle split
ladies split, performed in the position of the more traditional split, facing the direction of the front leg
Spins are a required element in all four Olympic disciplines. There are three basic positions — sit, camel, and upright — and numerous variations.Camel spin variations include catch-foot, layover, and doughnut.
Sit spin variations include pancake, broken leg, tuck behind, cannonball, and clam.
Upright spin variations include layback, Biellmann, haircutter, layover layback, and pearl.
During a spin, the skater rotates on the round part of the blade, called the front rocker, just behind the toe pick (the ball of the foot). Spins may be performed individually or in a sequence combining different types of spins. A spin may be executed on the back rocker of the blade during a change of edge spin. For example, a back scratch spin will flip edges to a forward inside edge. This feature of a spin will change the level of a spin. Spins may be performed on either foot. Like jumping, skaters mostly rotate in the counterclockwise direction, but there are some skaters who rotate in the clockwise direction. Some skaters are able to rotate in both directions. For skaters who rotate in a counterclockwise direction, a spin on the left foot is called a forward spin, while a spin on the right foot is called a back spin. When learning to spin, one will typically learn a forward spin then once completing that will learn how to execute a back spin.
When performing some types of spins, an elite skater can complete on overage 6 rotations per second, and about 70 rotations in a single spin.
Spins can be entered on the ice or through a jump or sequence of jumps known as star jumps. Spins that are entered through a jump are calling flying spins. Flying spins include the flying camel, flying sit spin, death drop, and butterfly spin. Flying spins may go from a forward spin to a back spin. A flying spin can also be performed as part of a spin sequence.
In pair skating, spins may be performed side-by-side with both partners doing the same spin or combination spin at the same time. Additionally, in pairs and in ice dancing, there are pair and dance spins, during which both skaters rotate around the same axis while holding onto each other.
Lifts are a required element in pair skating and ice dancing.
Pair lifts are generally overhead. According to the current ISU rules for senior-level competition, the man must rotate more than once, but fewer than three-and-a-half times. In competitive pair skating, lifts must travel across the ice to be included in the technical elements score (TES); stationary lifts are included in choreography. Pair lifts are grouped by the holds involved.
Legal holds:Armpit holds are not generally used in elite senior competition.
Hand-to-hand lifts are divided into two types:
Lasso lifts, in order of increasing difficulty:Toe or step in lasso
Axel or backward lasso
The judges look at speed, ice coverage, the quality of the lady's position, position changes, and the man's stability and cleanness of turns throughout. Skaters may also raise their score by having a difficult entry such as in spiral or spread eagle position, a difficult exit, or other features such as stopping the rotation, turning a carry lift into rotational one, or reversing rotation (i.e. both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions).
Twist lifts are a form of pair lifts, where the lifted partner is thrown into the air, twists, and is caught by the lifted partner. The lady is caught by her waist in the air and lands on the backward outside edge. Some pairs include a split before rotating. This is credited as a difficult feature if each leg is separated by at least a 45° angle from the body axis and the legs are straight or almost straight. Scores are also affected by the height of the twist, turns, steps or other moves before the element, the lady holding her arms over her head, delayed rotation, etc.
Ice dancers are not allowed to lift their partners above their shoulders. Dance lifts are separated into short lifts and long lifts. There are many positions each partner can take to raise the difficulty of a lift. Each position must be held for at least three seconds to count and is permitted only once in a program.
Short lifts may last up to six seconds in competition on the senior level.Stationary lift - A lift performed "on the spot". The lifting partner does not move across the ice, but is allowed to rotate.
Straight line lift - The lifting partner moves in a straight line across the ice. This lift may be performed on one foot or two.
Curve lift - The lifting partner moves along a curve across the ice. This lift may be performed on one foot or two.
Rotational lift - The lifting partner rotates in one direction while traveling across the ice.
Long lifts may last up to ten seconds in competition on the senior level.Reverse rotational lift - The lifting partner rotates in one direction, then switches and rotates in the other direction, while traveling across the ice.
Serpentine lift - The lifting partner moves in a serpentine pattern across the ice.
Combination lift - A lift combining two of the four short lifts. Each part of the lift must be fully established.
In both pairs and dance, lifts that go on longer than allowed receive deductions.
Step sequences are a required element in all four Olympic disciplines. The pattern can be straight line, circular, or serpentine. The step sequence consists of a combination of turns, steps, hops and edge changes. Additionally, steps and turns can be used as transitions between elements. The various turns, which skaters can incorporate into step sequences, include:
Choctaws are the two-foot equivalents of rockers and counters. Other movements that may be incorporated into step sequences or used as connecting elements include lunges and spread eagles. An Ina Bauer is similar to a spread eagle performed with one knee bent and typically an arched back. Hydroblading refers to a deep edge performed with the body as low as possible to the ice in a near-horizontal position.
Moves in the field emphasize basic skating skill and edge control. In the context of a competitive program, they include spirals, spread eagles, Ina Bauers, hydroblading, and similar extended edge moves.
A spiral is an element in which the skater moves across the ice on a specific edge with the free leg held at hip level or above. Spirals are distinguished by the edge of the blade used (inside or outside), the direction of motion (forward or backward), and the skater's position. A spiral sequence is one or more spiral positions and edges done in sequence. Judges look at the depth, stability, and control of the skating edge, speed and ice coverage, extension, and other factors. Some skaters are able to change edges during a spiral, i.e. from inside to outside edge. Spirals performed on a "flat" are generally not considered as true spirals. Spiral sequences are required in ladies' and pair skating.
A death spiral is a required element of pair skating. There are four varieties distinguished by the lady's edge and direction of motion. The man performs a pivot, one toe anchored in the ice, while holding the hand of his partner, who circles him on a deep edge with her body almost parallel to the ice. As of 2011, the woman's head must at some time reach her skating knee. The man must also be in a full pivot position and the death spiral must be held for a minimum amount of rotation, depending on the level.
Compulsory figures involves using blades to draw circles, figure 8s, and similar shapes in ice. Skaters are judged on the accuracy and clarity of the figures and the cleanness and exact placement of the various turns on the circles. Figures were formerly included as a component of singles competitions but were eliminated from international events in 1990. The United States was the last country to retain a separate test and competitive structure for compulsory figures, but the last national-level figures championship was held in 1999. Moves in the field (known in the United Kingdom as field moves) replaced compulsory figures as a discipline to teach the same turns and edge skills.
The International Skating Union (ISU) is the governing body for international competitions in figure skating, including the World Championships and the figure skating events at the Winter Olympic Games. Medals are awarded for overall results. The standard medal colors are gold for first place, silver for second, and bronze for third place. U.S. Figure Skating also awards pewter medals for fourth-place finishers in national events. At the World, European, Four Continents, and World Junior Championships, the ISU also awards small medals for segment results (short and free program).
In singles and pairs figure skating competition, competitors must perform two programs, the short program, in which the skater must complete a list of required elements consisting of jumps, spins and steps; and the free skate, also known as the long program, in which the skaters have slightly more choice of elements. Under both the 6.0 system and the ISU Judging System, the judges consider the "complete package" when evaluating performances, i.e. The best jumper is not always placed first if the judges consider another skater's speed, spins, presentation, etc., to outweigh the difference in jumping execution.
Ice dancing competitions formerly consisted of three phases: one or more compulsory dances; an original dance to a ballroom rhythm that is designated annually; and a free dance to music of the skaters' own choice. Beginning in the 2010–11 season, the compulsory and original dances were merged into the short dance.
On the 13th of March 2013,at the World Figure skating Championships in London, Ontario and Canada, Patrick Chan (Canada) scored 98.37 points setting the World Record in a figure skating short program (male).
Skating was formerly judged for "technical merit" (in the free skate), "required elements" (in the short program), and "presentation" (in both programs). The marks for each program ran from 0.0 to 6.0, the latter being the highest. These marks were used to determine a preference ranking, or "ordinal", separately for each judge; the judges' preferences were then combined to determine placements for each skater in each program. The placements for the two programs were then combined, with the free skate placement weighted more heavily than the short program. The highest placing individual (based on the sum of the weighted placements) was declared the winner.
In 2004, in response to the judging controversy during the 2002 Winter Olympics, the ISU adopted the International Judging System (IJS), which became mandatory at all international competitions in 2006, including the 2006 Winter Olympics. The new system is often informally referred to as the Code of Points, however, the ISU has never used the term to describe their system in any of their official communications.
Under the system, points are awarded individually for each skating element, and the sum of these points is the total element score (TES). Competitive programs are constrained to have a set number of elements. Each element is judged first by a technical specialist who identifies the specific element and determines its base value. The technical specialist uses instant replay video to verify things that distinguish different elements; e.g., the exact foot position at take-off and landing of a jump. The decision of the technical specialist determines the base value of the element. A panel of twelve judges then each award a mark for the quality and execution of the element. This mark is called the grade of execution (GOE) that is an integer from −3 to +3. The GOE mark is then translated into another value by using the table of values in ISU rule 322. The GOE value from the twelve judges is then processed with a computerized random selection of nine judges, then discarding the high and low value, and finally averaging the remaining seven. This average value is then added to (or subtracted from) the base value to get the total value for the element.
The program components score (PCS) awards points to holistic aspects of a program or other nuances that are not rewarded in the total element score. The components are:
- Skating skills (SS) reward use of edges and turns, flow over the ice surface, speed and acceleration, ice coverage, clean and controlled curves, multi-directional skating, and mastery of one-foot skating (no overuse of skating on two feet).
- Transitions (TR)
- Performance/Execution (PE)
- Choreography (CH)
- Interpretation (IN)
The only exception is the compulsory dance, which has no choreography or transition marks because the steps are preset. A detailed description of each component is given in ISU rule 322.2. Judges award each component a raw mark from 0 to 10 in increments of 0.25, with a mark of 5 being defined as "average". For each separate component, the raw marks are then selected, trimmed, and averaged in a manner akin to determining a grade of execution. The trimmed mean scores are then translated into a factored mark by multiplying by a factor that depends on the discipline, competition segment, and level. Then the five (or four) factored marks are added to give the final PCS score.
The total element score and the program components score are added to give the total score for a competition segment (TSS). A skater's final placement is determined by the total of their scores in all segments of a competition. No ordinal rankings are used to determine the final results.
There are also skating competitions organized for professional skaters by independent promoters. These competitions use judging rules set by whoever organizes the competition. There is no "professional league". Well-known professional competitions in the past have included the World Professional Championships (held in Landover, Maryland), the Challenge Of Champions, the Canadian Professional Championships and the World Professional Championships (held in Jaca, Spain).
The Ice Skating Institute (ISI), an international ice rink trade organization, runs its own competitive and test program aimed at recreational skaters. Originally headquartered in Minnesota, the organization now operates out of Dallas, Texas. ISI competitions are open to any member that have registered their tests. There are very few "qualifying" competitions, although some districts hold Gold Competitions for that season's first-place winners. ISI competitions are especially popular in Asian countries that do not have established ISU member federations. The Gay Games have also included skating competitions for same-gender pairs and dance couples under ISI sponsorship. Other figure skating competitions for adults also attract participants from diverse cultures and sexual orientations.
A skater/couple's world standing (WS) is calculated based on results over the current and preceding two seasons. Competitors receive points based on their final placement at an event and the event's weight. The following events receive points:ISU Championships (World, European, Four Continents, and World Junior Championships) and Olympic Winter Games: The best result by points per season, the best two results by points over the three seasons.
ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating and Final (senior and junior): The two best results by points per season, the best four results by points over the three seasons.
International senior calendar competitions: The two best results by points per season, the best four results by points over the three seasons.
Following the current season's World Championships, the results from the earliest season are deleted. A new partnership starts with zero points — there is no transfer of WS points if a pair or ice dancing couple split up and form a new partnership.
These standings do not necessarily reflect a skater/couple's capabilities. Due to limits on entries to events (no more than three from each country), and varying numbers of high-level skaters in each country, skaters from some countries may find it more difficult to qualify to compete at major events. Thus, a skater with a lower SB but from a country with few high-level skaters may qualify to a major event while a skater with a much higher SB but from a country with more than three high-level skaters may not be sent. As a result, it is possible for a skater who regularly scores higher to end up with a much lower world standing.
A skater/couple's season's world ranking is calculated similarly to overall world standing but is based on the results on the results of the ongoing season only.
A skater/couple's season's best (SB) is the highest score they have achieved within a particular season. There may be SB for combined total and segment scores (short program/dance, free skating/free dance). Each skater or couple's best combined total appears on a list of season's bests. The list may be used to help determine assignments to the following season's Grand Prix series. Only scores achieved at select international competitions are considered. Scores from national competitions and certain international events are excluded.
There are also personal best (PB) scores, i.e. the highest scores a skater or couple has achieved over their entire career, in terms of combined total and segment scores. However, PB scores are not completely comparable if achieved in different seasons because the ISU modifies requirements and rules between seasons. In different seasons, there may be different requirements to achieve a certain level or different elements may be required. New elements may become allowed (for example, two quads in the short program were permitted starting in the 2010–11 season). There may be a change in point values. For example, the values of quads were increased after the 2010 Olympics and a second step sequence in men is no longer assigned a level. As a result, the ISU now places more weight on SB.
For competitive programs, figure skaters were once restricted to instrumental music, including vocal music if it contained no lyrics or words. Beginning in the 1997–98 season, the International Skating Union decided to allow lyrics or words in ice dancing. Although the rules were not relaxed for singles and pairs, judges did not always penalize violations. At the 2011 World Championships, Florent Amodio's long program music included words but an insufficient number of judges voted for a deduction. In June 2012, the International Skating Union voted to allow skaters from all disciplines to choose music with words in their competitive programs beginning in the 2014–15 season.
Skaters may use professional music editors so that their music meets requirements. Ice dancers are required to skate to music that has a definite beat or rhythm. Singles and pair skaters more often skate to the melody and phrasing of their music. For long programs, figure skaters generally search for music with different moods and tempos. Music selections for exhibitions are less constrained than for competitive programs.
Skaters are generally free to select their own attire, with a few restrictions. In competition, females may wear a dress, typically with matching attached briefs, and since 2004, they may also choose trousers. They may wear opaque flesh-colored leggings or tights under dresses and skirts, which may extend to cover their skates. Men must wear trousers – they are not allowed to wear tights, although, officials do not always impose a deduction for violations. Matching costumes are not required in pair skating and ice dancing.
Competition costumes vary widely, from simple designs to heavily beaded or trimmed costumes. Skaters risk a deduction if a piece of their costume falls onto the ice surface. An official may stop a program if he or she deems there to be a hazard. Skaters and family members may design their own costumes, sometimes with assistance from their coach or choreographer, or turn to professional designers. Costumes may cost thousands of dollars if designed by a top-level costumemaker.
According to current ISU regulations, costumes in competition "must be modest, dignified and appropriate for athletic competition – not garish or theatrical in design. Clothing may, however, reflect the character of the music chosen." Although the use of flesh-colored fabric means the costumes are often less revealing than they may appear, there have been repeated attempts to ban clothing that gives the impression of "excessive nudity" or that is otherwise inappropriate for athletic competition. In general, accessories or props are not permitted in competition. The ISU allowed an exception for the original dance in the 2007–2008 season but not since.
To compete internationally on the senior level, skaters must be at least 15 before July 1 of the preceding year. To be eligible for junior-level events, a skater must be at least 13 but under 19 before that date (or 21 for male pair skaters and ice dancers). A skater must meet the age requirement before it becomes July 1 in their place of birth. For example, Adelina Sotnikova was born a few hours into July 1, 1996 in Moscow and consequently, was not eligible to compete at Junior Worlds until 2011 and senior Worlds until 2013. The ISU's rules apply to international events. Many countries have no age requirements for domestic non-ISU competitions, thus, some skaters compete at the senior level nationally while not eligible for international competition.
The International Skating Union has modified its age rules several times. Prior to the 1990s, 12 was the minimum age for senior international competitions. New rules were introduced in 1996, requiring skaters to be at least 15 before July 1 of the preceding year in order to compete at the Olympics, Worlds, Europeans, or Four Continents. The minimum age for all other senior internationals was 14 until July 2014, when it was raised to 15.
During the 2005–06 season, Mao Asada of Japan was age-eligible to compete at the Grand Prix Final, where she claimed the title, but she was not permitted to compete at the Olympics. For the 2008 World Championships, the United States was obliged to send skaters who had placed 5th and 7th at nationals because higher-placed skaters were too young, including a skater who missed the cutoff by 20 days. The ISU has strictly enforced the rules in recent years. However, American pair skater Natasha Kuchiki was allowed to compete at the 1990 World Championships when she was two years too young and American single skater Tara Lipinski, who was 13 at the time the 1996 rules were introduced, was grandfathered into remaining eligible for future events, along with other skaters who had already competed at the World Championships. A loophole also existed for a few years for underage skaters who had medaled at Junior Worlds.
As in gymnastics, skating has experienced controversy surrounding possible age falsification. On February 14, 2011, questions emerged surrounding nine Chinese skaters. The Associated Press found that birthdates listed on the Chinese skating association's website suggested five female skaters, Sui Wenjing, Zhang Dan, Yu Xiaoyu, Geng Bingwa, and Xu Binshu, were younger than their ISU ages, and four male skaters, Han Cong, Zhang Hao, Jin Yang, and Gao Yu, were older. The dates disappeared from the website by February 15. On February 17, the ISU said there were no discrepancies for Zhang Dan, Zhang Hao, and Xu Binshu between the birthdates listed on their passports, ISU registration forms and the Chinese Olympic Committee's website. Athletes in China sometimes face pressure to falsify their age.
Skaters may represent a country of which they are not yet a citizen in most competitions, except the Olympics which require citizenship.
At most international events, each country may send one to a maximum of three entries per discipline. Consequently, even if a skater has a high season's best, he or she may not be sent to major events if their country has many good skaters in their discipline. Some skaters have tried to circumvent this by switching to another country. In response, the ISU introduced rules barring skaters from international events for a certain period of time. In the 2010 regulations, it was 24 months or more from the date of the last ISU Championship. In the 2012 regulations, the minimum was 18 months for singles and 12 months for pairs/ice dancers from the date of their last ISU Championships (Worlds, Europeans, Four Continents, Junior Worlds) and 12 months if they competed in some other international competition. Competitors may sit out for much longer because they also have to obtain a release from their previous federation. The ISU has set no limit to how long a country may hold skaters.
Skaters may lose their ISU eligibility if they perform in an unsanctioned show or competition.
Beginning in the 2010–11 season, minimum scores were introduced for the World, European, or Four Continents Championships. In the 2011–12 season, different minimum scores were introduced for the Grand Prix series.
Figure skating is an expensive sport. This is particularly due to the costs of ice time and coaching. In the late 1980s, the expenses of a top-ten ladies' competitor at the U.S. Championships reached nearly $50,000 a year. In October 2004, a U.S. Figure Skating article estimated the annual expense at $9,000-$10,000 for pre-juvenile, $18,000 for juvenile, $35,000-$40,000 for novice, and said junior and senior levels were somewhat more expensive. In the 2010s, American senior national medalists had expenses in the mid-five-figure range. Swiss skater Stéphane Lambiel said his costs were around 100,000 Swiss francs per season. World champion Patrick Chan's expenses were $150,000 (Canadian dollars). In 2015, CBC Sports estimated that a Canadian pair team had expenses of about CDN $100,000 per year.
Prize money is relatively low compared to other sports. A men's or ladies' singles skater who won the 2011 World Championships earned $45,000 (USD), about 1.8% to 2.5% of the $1,800,000-$2,400,000 USD for winners of the tennis US Open and Australian Open. A couple who won the pairs or ice dancing title split $67,500. A winner of the senior Grand Prix Final in December 2011 earned $25,000 USD.
Some national associations provide funding to some skaters if they meet certain criteria. Many skaters take part-time jobs and some have tried crowdfunding. In Germany, many elite skaters join the army to fund their skating. In Italy, some skaters join police agencies' sport groups, such as the Polizia Penitenziaria's Fiamme Azzurre (Carolina Kostner, Anna Cappellini, Luca Lanotte) or Polizia di Stato's Fiamme Oro (Federica Faiella, Paolo Bacchini). Some competitive skaters depend on income from shows. Shows must be sanctioned by their association, i.e. skaters may lose their competitive eligibility if they take part without permission. In some cases, skaters may feel pressure to compete through injury in order to be allowed to perform in a show.
Competitive skaters generally do not wear helmets or other protective gear. There is a risk of head injuries, particularly in pair skating as a result of falls from lifts. Although pair skaters are most susceptible, serious head injuries can occur in all disciplines, including ice dancing. Partners have accidentally slashed each other with their skate blades. This may occur when partners drift too close during side-by-side camel spins. Several female pair skaters have suffered head/face injuries during this element, including Elena Berezhnaya, Jessica Dubé, Mandy Wötzel, Galina Maniachenko (Efremenko), and Elena Riabchuk.
Commenting on falls and concussions, Madison Hubbell said that "Most of the time, the worst falls are on things we kind of take for granted." Shin splints, knee injuries, and back problems are not uncommon. Hip damage may occur as a result of practicing jumps and throws. In rare cases, intensive training of spins may result in subtle concussions (Lucinda Ruh).
Injuries have also been sustained by skaters from different teams when there are many skaters practicing on the ice. Midori Ito collided with Laetitia Hubert at the 1991 World Championships, while Oksana Baiul and Tanja Szewczenko collided at the 1994 Olympics, but all went on to compete. On practice sessions with multiple skaters on the ice, the skater whose music is playing conventionally has right of way. In addition, pairs and ice dancers skating as a unit have right of way over those skating separately as changing course is more difficult for a couple.
In some countries, medical personnel may be slow to respond to accidents. At the 2000 World Championships in Nice, France, a pair skater who had been injured in a lift accident lay on the ice for several minutes and had to get up and leave the ice on his own before being offered medical attention.
Eating disorders are reportedly common in figure skating.
Figure skaters occasionally have positive doping results but it is not common. Commenting on Soviet skaters, three-time Olympic champion Irina Rodnina stated in 1991, "Boys in pairs and singles used drugs, but this was only in August or September. This was done just in training, and everyone was tested (in the Soviet Union) before competitions."
While people have been ice skating for centuries, figure skating in its current form originated in the mid-19th century. A Treatise on Skating (1772) by Englishman Robert Jones, is the first known account of figure skating. Competitions were then held in the "English style" of skating, which was stiff and formal and bears little resemblance to modern figure skating. American skater Jackson Haines, considered the "father of modern figure skating", introduced a new style of skating in the mid-1860s. This style, which incorporated free and expressive techniques, became known as the "international style." Although popular in Europe, Haines' style of skating was not widely adopted in the United States until long after his death.
The International Skating Union was founded in 1892. The first European Championships were held in 1891, and the first World Championships were held in 1896 and won by Gilbert Fuchs. Only men competed in these events. In 1902, a woman, Madge Syers, entered the World competition for the first time, finishing second. The ISU quickly banned women from competing against men, but established a separate competition for "ladies" in 1906. Pair skating was introduced at the 1908 World Championships, where the title was won by Anna Hübler / Heinrich Burger. Figure skating's Olympic debut came at the 1908 Summer Olympics—it was the first winter sport introduced to the Olympics.
On March 20, 1914 an international figure skating championship was held in New Haven, Connecticut. This was the ancestor of both the United States and Canadian National Championships. However, international competitions in figure skating were interrupted by World War I.
In the 1920s and 1930s, figure skating was dominated by Sonja Henie, who turned competitive success into a lucrative professional career as a movie star and touring skater. Henie also set the fashion for female skaters to wear short skirts and white boots. The top male skaters of this period included Gillis Grafström and Karl Schäfer.
Skating competitions were again interrupted for several years by World War II. After the war, with many European rinks in ruins, skaters from the United States and Canada began to dominate international competitions and to introduce technical innovations to the sport. Dick Button, 1948 and 1952 Olympic Champion, was the first skater to perform the double axel and triple loop jumps, as well as the flying camel spin.
The first World Championships in ice dancing were not held until 1952. In its first years, ice dance was dominated by British skaters. Beginning with Jean Westwood / Lawrence Demmy, British couples won the world title every year through 1960.
On February 15, 1961, the entire U.S. figure skating team and their coaches were killed in the crash of Sabena Flight 548 in Brussels, Belgium en route to the World Championships in Prague. This tragedy sent the U.S. skating program into a period of rebuilding.
At the same time, the Soviet Union rose to become a dominant power in the sport, especially in the disciplines of pair skating and ice dancing. At every Winter Olympics from 1964 until 2006, a Soviet or Russian pair won gold in pair skating, often considered one of the longest winning streaks in modern sports history. The 1967 World Championships was the last event held in an outdoor rink.
Compulsory figures formerly accounted for up to 60% of the score in singles figure skating, which meant that skaters who could build up a big lead in figures could win competitions even if they were mediocre free skaters. As television coverage of skating events became more important, so did free skating. Beginning in 1968, the ISU began to progressively reduce the weight of figures and introduced the short program in 1973. With these changes, the emphasis in competitive figure skating shifted to increasing athleticism. By the 1980s, some skaters began practicing quadruple jumps. Jozef Sabovcik of Czechoslovakia landed a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships which was recognized at the event but then ruled invalid three weeks later due to a touchdown with his free foot. At the 1988 World Championships, Kurt Browning of Canada landed the first quad toe loop which has remained ratified. Although it was expected that quads would soon become an important part of men's skating, it was a number of years before this happened. Japan's Midori Ito landed the first triple axel by a woman. Worth only 20% by 1989, figures were eliminated entirely from international competition in 1990.
Television showing skaters in the kiss and cry area after competing contributed to the sport's popularity. Television also played a role in removing the restrictive amateur status rules that once governed the sport. In May 1990, the International Skating Union voted to allow skaters who were intending to skate professionally to return to ISU competition if they obtained their national association's permission. To retain skaters who might otherwise have given up their eligibility to participate in lucrative professional events, in 1995 the ISU introduced prize money at its major competitions, funded by revenues from selling the TV rights to those events.
In 1984, more than 24 million people in Great Britain watched ice dancing pair Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean earn unanimous 6.0s for presentation, the only perfect score in Olympic skating history, which was ranked the 8th greatest sporting moment in a UK poll. In the 1993 National Sports Study II, considered by the Associated Press as the largest study of spectator sport popularity in America, ladies' figure skating was the second most popular spectator sport in America, just behind NFL football out of over 100 sports surveyed. The 1993 study found that three figure skaters — Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, and Scott Hamilton — were among the eight most popular athletes in the United States, out of over 800 athletes surveyed. Dorothy Hamill was statistically tied with Mary Lou Retton as the most popular athlete in America. The Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 increased interest in figure skating. The first night of the ladies' figure skating competition in the 1994 Winter Olympics achieved higher TV Nielsen ratings than that year's Super Bowl and was the most watched sports television program of all-time, to that date.
Spectators sometimes throw a variety of items, most commonly stuffed toys and flowers, onto the ice in support of their favorite skaters but officials discourage flowers which are not fully wrapped due to the possibility of debris disrupting or endangering the following skaters.
Countries who have produced many successful skaters in recent decades include Russia and the former Soviet Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, China, France, Germany, and Italy. While the sport has grown in East Asia, training opportunities in South Asia are limited due to a scarcity of ice rinks. India had only four major indoor ice rinks as of 2011, but there were plans for ten more to be built, mostly in malls, over the following five years.
Four skating has mostly disappeared while synchronized skating and solo ice dancing have grown. On April 6, 2011, the International Olympic Committee officially confirmed the approval of a team event, to be introduced at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The elimination of the compulsory dance provided space for the team event. Each team will be composed of a men's and ladies single skater, a pair, and an ice dancing team. Ten teams may compete, with five eliminated after the short program. In December 2011, the International Skating Union released details of the qualifying system and the competition.
In 1937, Sonja Henie appeared in the film Thin Ice. Figure skating has been the focus of several later Hollywood films, including The Cutting Edge (and its sequels, The Cutting Edge: Going for the Gold, The Cutting Edge: Chasing the Dream and The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice), Ice Princess, Ice Castles, Ice Angel, Go Figure, and Blades of Glory, among others. Olympic champion Brian Boitano was parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut in the song "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" U.S. national champion Johnny Weir was the focus of the reality show Be Good Johnny Weir which aired on the Sundance Channel. Figure skating plays a prominent role in Yuri on Ice, an anime that aired in autumn 2016 which focuses on the career of fictional figure skater Katsuki Yuri.