Skating 101: Code of Points Basics

Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed my first Skating 101 post on the history behind the Code of Points (CoP) judging system. Here is my second post on the CoP. I hope it’s informative!

The Code of Points judging system is the current judging system that has been in use since 2004. After the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, the International Skating Union decided to create a new judging system that was more objective and could take better into account the difficulty of the elements in a skater’s program. I won’t go too deeply into decoding the nitty gritty of the CoP but hopefully, I’ll give you enough information to better understand the scores that skaters get in Sochi.

For teaching purposes, let’s use this performance and program by Mao Asada as a teaching example:

Let’s start with the fact that skaters are scored in two categories under the new system: Technical Elements Score (TES) and their Program Components Score (PCS).

1. Technical Elements Score (TES)

This season, you may have noticed a little box with numbers at the top left of your screen at skating competitions.

TES box

The box shows the technical elements score of the leader and what the current skater has accumulated so far. So what exactly goes into the TES?

Well, skaters are first given a base mark for the elements from the technical specialist and a grade of execution mark (GOE) ranging from -3 to +3 from the judges.The highest and lowest GOE is dropped and averaged and then added to the score. Using Mao’s program as an example, at 1:29, Mao does her triple axel (3A). From then on, the technical panel has to look at whether or not Mao has done the jump correctly with the right edges and with enough rotations.

For this particular performance, the technical panel seems to have changed their minds after she skated her program (not uncommon, if they decide to review the elements again) since the numbers I have don’t match the ones on the screen. The final judgment on Mao’s 3A was that it was underrotated, giving her a base mark of 6.00. The judging panel gives her mostly 0s and -1s for her GOE which averaged out to -0.43. At that point in the competition, Mao has then acquired 5.57 points (6.00 + -0.43).

For other elements such as spins and step sequences, the technical panel judges the difficulty of these elements by assigning it a level from 1 to 4. The definition of these levels are written by the ISU in the technical guidelines which can be found here. Each level has a base value and the judges also assign a GOE to these elements.

2. Program Components Score (PCS)

Skating is a subjective sport. Even though we want to watch skaters push their body to the limits (and trust me, they do), we also want them to tug at our heartstrings and make it difficult look effortless and beautiful. The PCS is where the judges factor in this particular aspect of the sport. The PCS is broken down into 5 categories: Skating Skills, Transitions/Linking Footwork, Performance and Execution, Composition and Choreography and Interpretation and Timing. Each judge gives a skater a score from 1 to 10 is 0.25 increments. Again, the definition of the 1 to 10 range is given in the guidelines though ultimately, the score is very subjective. The scores of each category is averaged, weighted and added together to get the PCS.

3. Are there other factors to consider in the score?

Good you asked! At every competition there is a referee who is in charge of inputting specific deductions such as time violations, costume failure and interruptions to the program. If any of these violations are invoked, it’ll be marked as a deduction from the final score. (The technical panel also has the power to input deductions for falls, extra elements, illegal elements or overly long lifts.)

Now you have a basic understanding of the CoP. Here are a few other tidbits that could be useful.

Where can I find all the information on the skaters’ scores?

For each event sanctioned by the ISU, there will be an event page that can be found on the ISU website. (For non-ISU events, like National Championships, look for the info on the website of the specific figure skating federation hosting the event.) Each competition segment will have a Starting Order/Detailed Classification page that looks like this:

GPF 2013 ladies details sheet

When that segment of the competition is over, the ISU will also release the skating protocols within half an hour on pdf as well, which is where I got my information on Mao’s 3A for this competition. The protocol lists all the skaters in the order of their rank after that segment of the competition. Here’s a screenshot of Mao’s detailed score to give a sense of what kind of information is there:

GPF 2013 ladies detailed score sheet

As you can see, each element in the program is listed, along with the level (if applicable). For a list of abbreviations, here’s a link. With the levels and the GOE, you can get a sense of how well the skater has done at a competition. So here, I see that Mao has executed 2 triple jumps and a triple loop-double loop and has mostly level 4s for her elements. Along with a positive GOE, I can see that Mao has had a pretty good skate.

As for Mao, she and her coaches can benefit from reading this sheet. In my last post, I mentioned how in the 6.0 judging system, skaters could get a specific score like 5.6 for completely different reasons? And worse, they don’t know exactly for what reasons? In this new judging system, Mao can now see that she needs to work on her triple axel (3A) to make sure it’s fully rotated next time. Her combination spin with change of foot (CCoSp) was marked as level 3 and therefore, she has to look back at the footage and see what she can do to receive a level 4. Mao could also think about seeing her choreographer to change elements to bolster her transitions/linking footwork PCS. In other words, one of the benefits of the new judging system is that skaters can now find out exactly which part of their program they need to improve on.

Some other advantages to the CoP:

1. Skaters are better credited for the content of their programs.

2. The need to “wait one’s turn” is lessened to not completely gone. New skaters are more able to make their mark and rank highly under the new system if they can skate well and garner high TES. This season, we’ve seen Julia Lipnitskaia take out former World Champion, Carolina Kostner, and win gold at a Grand Prix event solely based on TES. In the 6.0 system, a lesser known skater can skate well but the judges can more easily put veterans on the podium since the score does not necessarily tell you the ordinal or ranking a skater was given.

3. The system encourages skaters to push themselves and the sport to its limits. A skater can always try to push ahead of the pack by putting more difficult content in their program, which innovates the sport. At the last Olympics, Mao Asada was the first lady to do 3 triple axels (the maximum you can do in an entire competition for both men and women) in competition. In the ladies’ short program, all ladies were required to do a double axel as well as a triple jump and combination jump. As a result of Mao’s achievement, the Japanese Skating Federation pushed and successfully had the rule changed so that ladies can do either a double or a triple axel in the short program.

4. Although the sport is inherently subjective, the subjectivity is more clearly delineated and limited. Although the technical panel can possibly overlook some details in their calls (which there have been some claims/accusations of), the judges subjectivity is mostly in the GOE and PCS. The subjectivity in the GOE is limited by dropping the highest and lowest scores, meaning that the most common score will likely come through in the averaging of the GOE. As for the PCS, there are guidelines as to what each score out of 10 means and we hope that the judges can follow these guidelines.

A few disadvantages of the new scoring system:

1. There is still a lot of subjectivity involved, especially in the PCS portion of the score which has been used to bolster or lower skaters’ scores and consequently, rankings.

2. There’s a lot of debate about the base values of elements like the quad and the triple axel. There’s a lot of tweaking to be done with the system as it is relatively new.

3. Now that skaters are aiming to gain points, it’s a lot more difficult for coaches and choreographers to create programs that have emotional impact throughout the entire program and don’t look the same or have elements that look terrible but get a lot of points. I think I can point to Nikolai Morozov as an example of a choreographer who’s struggling a bit with this system. Although occasionally (once in a blue moon perhaps), he comes up with a gem.

4. Judges scores are anonymous which makes them less accountable for their scores. This move was supposedly done so that judges would be allowed to give scores freely without the threat of being sanctioned by their skating federation if they didn’t comply with politicking pressures/deals as seen in Salt Lake City. For figure skating fans, we know that politicking will always happen and judges will likely give in to pressure from their skating federations anyways.

5.The media seems to hate this new scoring system for having so much math. Which I think is really silly considering a similar judging system is used in gymnastics and diving. Also, perpetuating math hate and fear is not cool. Math is a language that takes practice and patience. Overall, though I think the fear is that viewers are a little confused as to what the scores mean. I mean, is 72.36 a good score? Well, yes though it’s hard to say because scores can be inflated for skaters at the top tier for a variety of reasons.

The scores at the last Olympics looked a little higher overall in the top echelon of skaters compared to the scores of the other competitions that season. Of course, we could introduce the statistical concept of the z-score but I think the media will have a hissy fit if we do. For me, sometimes, I get a sense of how good the score is by comparing it to the world record score for that segment of the competition. Being close to that score is always a good sign although, there will always be competitions where everyone skates terribly but let’s not hope for that, shall we?

This has been a very long post. If you have any questions about the CoP, please ask them in the comments! I’ll add it to the post and answer everything to the best of my ability!

For the ISU’s official summary of the judging system, check out this link.

~The Rinkside Cafe

Other Skating 101 posts:

History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System

The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System

Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics

Figure Skating Jumps

Figure Skating Spins

Pairs Skating Elements

Ice Dance

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Skating 101: Olympic Berths | The Rinkside Cafe
  2. Trackback: Skating 101: The Jumps | The Rinkside Cafe
  3. Trackback: Skating 101: History of the Code of Points Judging System | The Rinkside Cafe
  4. Trackback: Skating 101: Figure Skating Spins | The Rinkside Cafe
  5. Trackback: Skating 101: Pairs Skating Elements | The Rinkside Cafe
  6. Trackback: Skating 101: Ice Dance | The Rinkside Cafe
  7. Trackback: Olympic Figure Skating Starts in Less than 24 Hours! | The Rinkside Cafe

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