Pair skaters execute a variety of elements, some of which are unique to the discipline. 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 pair executes the element. The GOE may be 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. Women are referred to as "ladies" in ISU regulations.
Pair lifts are mostly overhead, rotational, and require ice coverage, i.e. to travel a distance across the ice. 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. Scores are affected by the type of lift, type of entry, ice coverage and speed across the ice, changes of position, the quality of the lady's position, the man's stability and cleanness of turns (i.e. minimal snow flying), type of dismount, and unique features. Optional features to increase one's score include performing a difficult entry or dismount, a release to one hand, changes of position during the lift, stopping the rotation, turning a carry lift into rotational one, or reversing rotation (i.e. both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions).
Lifts are categorized by the hold at the moment the lady passes the man's shoulders. Legal holds are:Armpit holds (Group 1) are not generally used in elite senior competition.
Waist holds (Group 2)
Hand-to-hip or upper part of the leg (Group 3)
Hand-to-hand lifts are divided into two types:
Press lifts (Group 4)
Lasso lifts (Group 5), in order of increasing difficulty:Toe or step in lasso
Axel or backward lasso
The lady's position may be classified as upright (upper body vertical), star (sideways with upper body parallel to the ice), or platter (flat with upper body parallel to the ice, facing up or down). Lifts without rotation are termed carry lifts. In current competitive skating, they are incorporated into lifts that include rotation before or after, unlike in the past where they would more typically appear as separate lifts. Lifts below the man's shoulders are termed dance lifts and are counted toward the choreography mark. Stationary lifts, lifts performed "on the spot" without ice coverage, are also counted in choreography.
A twist lift, an element found only in pair skating, is a move that begins with the man assisting the lady in an Axel or toe-assisted jump where she rotates and is caught mid-air by the man, who then places her down back on the ice. In some twists, the lady performs a split before rotating. This is credited as a difficult feature if each leg is "at least 45° from the body axis and [her] legs are straight or almost straight." A few pairs perform a nearly 180° degree split before rotating. A pair may also achieve a higher score with a difficult entrance, delayed rotation, or if the lady holds her arms over her head while rotating.
Double and triple twist lifts are commonly seen at the elite level. The first quad twist was performed by Marina Cherkasova / Sergei Shakrai at the 1977 European Championships.
A twist may be performed in either vertical or lateral position. Although vertical was traditionally preferred by the judges, lateral ones have become more common since the 1990s. The pair's choice does not affect the score.
A throw jump, an element unique to pair skating, is a move in which the man assists the lady into the air and she lands on her own. Different pairs may use different techniques or holds. Throw jumps can be performed with any of the jump takeoffs, as doubles, triples, or quadruples for elite pair teams. The toe loop and salchow are considered the easiest jumps while the loop and flip are more difficult; the most difficult throw jump is the axel. The score is affected by the quality of execution, including the speed going into the element and distance and height of the throw. The man should continue skating in a smooth manner, without stopping or lunging forward too much from the exertion. Difficult entries, such as from a spiral, may increase the score.
The most difficult throw jump that has been completed in competition is the throw triple axel jump. It was first performed by Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr at the 2006 U.S. Championships. They were also the first to perform it in international competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
A death spiral is an element unique to pair skating. 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. In 2011, the ISU introduced a requirement that the female's head must at some time reach the level of her skating knee in order to receive a value. 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. An unusual entry such as a shoot-the-duck or catch-foot position, change of hand hold during the element and/or maintaining a catch-foot position may raise the score.
The outside edge death spirals are considered more difficult than the inside edge variants, with the forward outside death spiral the most difficult of all.
A pair spin is a spin in which the two spin around a common axis while holding each other. The additional balance obtained by holding onto a partner allows pair skaters to obtain spin positions that would be difficult or impossible for a singles skater to achieve. Rotational speed, centering, and quality and difficulty of positions affect the score. Pairs may employ atypical entries or rotate in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions.
Pair skaters also perform single skating elements, such as jumps and spins. Most pairs perform these elements side-by-side. The quality of the element is not evaluated by an average of each skater's completion, i.e. if one partner completes a double Axel and the other skater performs a single Axel, the element is considered a single Axel.
Both partners perform the same type of jump at the same time. If one partner has less rotation, both partners' jumps are scored as the lesser of the two. An under-rotated jump is "missing rotation of more than ¼, but less than ½ revolution" and receives 70% of the base value. A downgraded jump is "missing rotation of ½ revolution or more".
In marking grade of execution, judges consider the similarity of the partners' timing and technique, proximity, unison, speed going into the jumps, height, ice coverage, and whether the pair has a more difficult entry. Due to the need to maintain identical timing and technique, skaters who are able to perform a jump separately may struggle when performing the jump with a partner.
Spins are evaluated on unison and timing, difficulty and quality of positions, closeness, centering, and rotational speed. Pairs may shout auditory cues to their partner in order to maintain and adjust their timing.
Pairs also perform step sequences, spiral sequences and other moves in the field. Part of the step sequence is usually performed in unison but pairs may also include a mirror portion, dance lifts, etc. They are evaluated on variety and difficulty of turns, edge quality, speed, ice coverage, timing, and unison.
Spiral sequences do not have to be performed in identical positions. Speed, ice coverage, depth of edge (lean) and quality of positions determine the score.
Moves in the field include spread eagles, spirals, ina bauers, cantilevers, dance lifts and others. Pairs may create variations and combinations of these moves.
The program components score (PCS), also known as presentation, is composed of:
1) Skating skills (SS): Defined as "edge control and flow over the ice surface demonstrated by a command of the skating vocabulary (edges, steps, turns, etc), the clarity of technique, and the use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed", it includes:Balance, rhythmic knee action, and precision of foot placement
Flow and effortless glide
Clean and controlled curves, deep edges, steps, and turns
Varied use of power/energy, speed, and acceleration
Multi directional skating: Forward and backward, clockwise and counterclockwise including rotation in both directions
Mastery of one foot skating. No over use of skating on two feet.
Equal mastery of technique by both partners shown in unison.
2) Transitions (TR): Defined as "varied and/or intricate footwork, positions, movements, and holds that link all elements", including the entrances and exits of technical elements. The criteria include:Variety
Quality including unison
Balance of workload between partners
3) Performance/execution (PE) includes:Physical, emotional, and intellectual involvement
Carriage and alignment
Style and individuality, i.e. "the distinctive use of line and movement as inspired by the music" and artistic choices
Clarity of movement is "refined lines of the body and limbs, as well as the precise execution of any movement"
Varied use of tempo, rhythm, force, size, level, movement shapes, angles, and body parts as well as the use of contrast
Unison and “oneness”
Balance in performance between partners
Spatial awareness between partners – management of the distance between partners and management of changes of hold
The use of same techniques in edges, jumping, spinning, line, and style
4) Choreography (CH) includes the following criteria:Purpose, i.e. idea, concept, vision, mood
Proportion (equal weight of all parts)
Unity – purposeful threading of all movements
Utilization of personal and public space
Pattern and ice coverage, variety of patterns and directions of travel
Phrasing and form (movement and parts are structured to match the phrasing of the music)
Originality of purpose, movement, and design
Shared responsibility of purpose (both partners have equal roles)
5) Interpretation (IN) includes:Effortless movements in time to the music
Expression of the music's style, character, and rhythm
Use of finesse to reflect the nuances of music
Relationship between the partners reflecting the character of the music, equal understanding of the music
Pair skaters may struggle to find a good match – in terms of skills, technique, style, height differential, goals, and personality – in their native country. Some look abroad and agree to represent another country. Pairs composed of partners of different nationalities are required to choose one country in order to compete. Skaters who have agreed to change countries include Aliona Savchenko (Ukraine to Germany), Tatiana Volosozhar (Ukraine to Russia), Yuko Kavaguti (Japan to Russia), Mervin Tran (Canada to Japan), and Ondřej Hotárek (Czech Republic to Italy).
Skaters may represent a country of which they are not yet a citizen in most competitions, except the Olympics which require citizenship. If a skater has previously represented another country, International Skating Union rules bar the skater from 24 months of international competition from the date of his or her last major event for the previous country, or 12 months from a minor event. To ease the difficulty of finding a partner, the period may be 12 months from a major event for pair skaters (and ice dancers) but only if the skater is released by his or her previous skating federation.
In 1996, the International Skating Union imposed age requirements. In order to compete at Worlds, Europeans, Four Continents or the Olympics, skaters must be 15 before July 1 of the preceding year, or 14 for other senior international competitions. To be eligible for junior-level events, a pair skater must be 13 by July 1 but cannot have turned 19 (females) or 21 (males).
Skaters may lose their Olympic eligibility if they perform in an unsanctioned show or competition.
Competitive pair skaters generally do not wear helmets or other protective gear while executing risky elements, and despite using blades that are only 4 mm (3/16 inch) thick. There is a risk of head injuries, most commonly as a result of falls from lifts. Irina Rodnina competed at the 1972 World Championships, despite being hospitalized a day before the start of the competition with a concussion and an intracranial hematoma. J. Paul Binnebose suffered a nearly fatal head injury when he fell while lifting his partner; he was partly paralysed and did not return to competition.
Partners may also slash each other if they drift too close, particularly 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 Efremenko (Maniachenko), and Elena Riabchuk. Cuts may also occur on other elements, e.g. Caydee Denney accidentally sliced open Jeremy Barrett's calf while practicing side-by-side jumps, requiring 42 stitches. Meagan Duhamel sliced Craig Buntin's hand likewise on side-by-side jumps.
Twist lifts may also result in injury to both partners. Sometimes the female may elbow her partner on the descent from a twist; these accidents are not uncommon in practice and sometimes occur in competition, e.g. Duhamel breaking Eric Radford's nose at the 2011 Worlds. In some cases, this may prevent the man from catching his partner, e.g. Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison at the 2009 World Team Trophy. The height and force of throw jumps may also cause injuries to the lady, particularly during quad throws.
Practice collisions between different pairs may occur. A pair has right of way when their music is playing during practice. As changing course is more difficult for a couple, a pair skating as a unit has right of way over those practicing separately.
Although the ISU has banned certain dangerous moves, others continue to be allowed and rewarded.
Sandra Loosemore for CBS Sports in October 1999 —
"[The] ISU is sending mixed messages to skaters by rewarding other kinds of lifts with a high element of danger, such as one-handed lifts, lifts where the skaters continually change balance, grip and position, and lifts with acrobatic dismounts where the woman is flipped or swung as she is lowered. In addition, while the ISU might have banned an additional class of lifts where the woman is carried or swung in an upside-down position where she would be most vulnerable to head injury, this proposal from the ISU medical advisors was summarily rejected at the last ISU Congress."
Some pair skating maneuvers are banned from Olympic-eligible skating due to their high risk of serious injury to the skaters (although other dangerous moves are rewarded). Illegal elements warrant deductions in both the 6.0 and ISU Judging System. These moves are only performed in exhibitions or professional competition.A headbanger or bounce spin is performed by the man swinging the lady around with both of her feet off the ice, supported only by the man's grip on her ankle. The lady is elevated and lowered during the spin in a periodic fashion, sometimes with her head coming dangerously close to skimming the ice.
A Detroiter is performed by the man lifting the lady over his head, holding her parallel to the ice while he is in a two-foot spin. The hold is the most dangerous part of the spin because the man is supporting the lady only by her legs. This move is also performed in more dramatic and dangerous fashion with a one-handed hold.
Other illegal maneuvers include:somersault type jumps
lifts with wrong holds
lifts with more than 3 ½ revolutions of the man
spinning movements in which the man swings the lady around in the air while holding her hand or foot
twist-like or rotational movements during which the lady is turned over with her skating foot leaving the ice
rotational movements with the grip of one of the partners on the leg, arm and neck of the other partner
jumps of one of the partners towards the other partner
lying and prolonged and/or stationary kneeling on both knees on the ice at any moment
Mirror pairs are rare teams that perform side-by-side elements in opposite rotational directions. One such pair was Kristi Yamaguchi (counterclockwise) and Rudy Galindo (clockwise). Jill Watson (counter-clockwise) and Peter Oppegard (clockwise) also jumped in opposite directions. More recently, Tiffany Vise (clockwise) and Derek Trent (counter-clockwise) also rotate in opposite directions.
Mirror skating is a term similar to mirror pairs, but can apply to movements other than jumps and spins. The pair team of Andrée and Pierre Brunet are credited with first performing this kind of movement.
Shadow skating occurs when the pair performs the same movements without touching one another.
A similar pair is a pair team made up of two men or two women. The opposite of a mixed pair. Similar pairs do not compete in ISU events.
Since some jumping skills are required, pair skaters generally begin as single skaters. The switch to pairs usually occurs between the age of 10 and 20, most often by 16 for females who reach the World podium. Males often switch at a slightly older age, when they are better able to cope with lifts. Partnerships composed of skaters of different nationalities are not allowed to compete under two flags; they are required to choose one country and obtain the other country's permission.
In the 1950s, it was not uncommon for skaters to compete at the World level in both singles and pairs, but this grew rare with the increasing demands of both disciplines. At the 1990 World Championships, Kristi Yamaguchi became the last skater to place in the top five at Worlds in both singles (4th) and pairs (5th) — after the event, she chose to continue training in singles and quit pairs training. In the 21st century, some lower-level skaters may divide their training time between two disciplines but skaters usually make a choice when they reach a level where they might qualify for a World Championships.
Competitors often choose music in consultation with their coach and choreographer. For long programs, skaters generally search for music with different moods and tempos. In competitive programs, vocal music had traditionally been allowed only if it contained no lyrics or words. In June 2012, the International Skating Union voted to allow music with words in competitive programs beginning in the 2014–15 season.
Competition costumes vary widely. Skaters and family members may design their own costumes, sometimes with assistance from their coach or choreographer, or turn to professional designers. As in ice dancing, matching costumes are not required in pair skating. Women may wear trousers in competition since 2004, although dresses remain more popular. Men must wear trousers; they are not allowed to wear tights, although, officials do not always impose deductions for violations.
The most visible difference in relation to hockey skates is that figure skates have a set of large, jagged teeth called toe picks (also called "toe rakes") on the front of the blade. The toe picks are used primarily in jumping and should not be used for stroking or spins. Blades are mounted to the sole and heel of the boot with screws. In competition, skaters may have three minutes to make repairs to their skates. Blades are about 3/16 inch (4 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.