Skating 101: Ice Dance

Welcome to Skating 101, a series of posts dedicated to creating more informed viewers on skating. Hopefully, these posts will help you be a better judge when watching figure skating in Sochi! Now, the topic for this post is… ice dance! Ice Dance is quite unique among the disciplines in figure skating in that its focus is not on big jumps but rather on the complicated footwork, edges (look how close Tessa and Scott’s skating blades are to the ice below) and the interpretation of music.

Tessa Virtue Scott Moir Finlandia 2011 SD

To start off, here are a few things unique to ice dancing:

  • Ice Dance is supposed to be somewhat like ballroom dancing on ice.
  • Until the end of the 2009/2010 season, skaters had to skate to set dance patterns in the compulsory dance (CD) segment of the competition. (For more information on the CD, check out my Throwback Thursday post on it.) This segment has since been eliminated but skaters still have to incorporate these patterns in their short dance.
  • Ice Dance is the only discipline that allows vocal music with lyrics in competition programs. However, with ISU Communication no. 1741, the rules have been changed and starting in the 2014/2015 season, other skaters in all other disciplines will be allowed to use vocal music with lyrics.
  • There are no jumps in ice dance. In fact, a jump with more than a half rotation is illegal, even as part as a lift or other element.
  • As I mentioned in my Skating 101 post on Pairs Skating (see link below), overhead lifts are illegal in ice dance. The highest a partner can be lifted is on the other partner’s shoulder.
  • The blades on ice dancers’ skaters are slightly shorter in the back to allow for the partnering and footwork sequences.

Unique Elements in Ice Dance

Side-by-Side Twizzles

For some reason, commentators call the twizzles the “quad of ice dance” which I don’t really get. Maybe they are that difficult in terms of comparing them as elements, it’s like comparing apples and oranges seeing that quads aren’t mandatory (though highly, highly recommended for top echelon skaters in this Olympic cycle) while side-by-side twizzles are. In any case, for those of you who haven’t watched the video, a twizzle is a one foot turn that travels across the ice. In ice dance, partners need to do this side by side. With the Code of Points system, twizzles are given a level from 1 to 4 and a grade of execution score ranging from 1 to 3. (For more information, check out the Skating 101 Code of Points post.)

As a casual viewer, you can look for the following when ice dance teams do side by side twizzles:

  • Partners should be in perfect unison. Being even 1/4 of a rotation (or less) off from your partner ruins the effect.
  • Twizzles should be fast and cover a lot of ice.
  • Partners should be close together during the twizzle sequence.
  • Teams should enter into and exit out of twizzles smoothly.
  • Teams can increase the difficulty by holding onto the blade of their free foot, changing arm positions, change of edge, rotating in different directions or do a mirror twizzle (see them starting at 0:55).
  • Transitions between the different twizzle positions should be seamless and smooth.
  • Partners should do the same number of rotations.
  • The rotations should be done without any bobbles, stumbles or falls.

I have to say, the montage above should be entitled, “The Saddest Twizzle Montage Ever” since these are supposed to be top teams and yet a lot of these twizzles are out of sync, too far apart or full of bobbles.

Ice Dance Lifts

As I mentioned before, ice dance lifts cannot be done over the head. There are also two major categories of ice dance lifts: short lifts (consisting of 6 seconds) and long lifts (consisting of 12 seconds). Skaters who have overly long lifts get penalized with a deduction. Ice dance lifts are also categorized by their trajectory across the ice:

Short Lifts

  • Curve lift – The lifting partner moves in a curved trajectory across the ice either on one or two feet. (Watch at 3:35 here.)
  • Rotational lift – The lifting partner rotates across the ice in one direction only. (See 2:31 on this video.)
  • Stationary lift – A lift in which the lifting partner stays in one spot on the ice, often rotating. (Watch at 2:10.)
  • Straight line lift – The lifting partner moves in a straight line across the ice either on one or two feet. (See 3:48 on this video.)

Long Lifts

  • Reverse rotational lift – The lifting partner rotates across the ice in one direction, and then the other. (I don’t really recall any so if anyone has an example, link me in the comments!)
  • Serpentine lift – The lifting partner moves in an “S” or serpentine pattern across the ice. (Watch at 4:05 here.)
  • Combination lift – A lift that combines two of the short lifts together. (At 1:05, you see a curve lift that then transitions into a rotational lift.)

Most of the time, the man lifts the lady but it is perfectly legal in the rules for the lady to lift the man! At 1:18, you see Marina Anissina lift Gwendal Pezerat.

The lifting and lifted partner must also be in specific positions, which are listed nicely on this wikipedia page.

In general, ice dance lifts should:

  • Look effortless, despite being otherwise.
  • Transitions between positions should be seamless and smooth.
  • The type of lift should be clear as well as the positions of each lift.
  • They should be aesthetically pleasing and suit the theme of the program.

Dance Spins

For information on dance spins, check out my Skating 101 post on spins.

Footwork Sequences

The footwork sequences, though maybe not the most exciting to watch for most viewers, is actually one of the most important part of ice dance. Footwork sequences differ by whether or not the partners are touching and the general trajectory of the footwork sequence (circular, diagonal, straight line or mid-line).

In general, footwork sequences should:

  • Have speed and power. These two are pretty much the most important aspects of ice dance. The footwork should cover as much ice as possible and the skaters should not lose speed despite skating on one foot for extended periods of time. It should also look as if partners are working together (or not working hard at all!), you shouldn’t get the impression that one partner is “dragging” the other around the ice.
  • The free leg (the leg not on the ice) should create beautiful lines and should be in unison when the choreography demands it. In other words, the free leg shouldn’t look like a dead piece of wood hanging off a person.
  • Skaters should create deep edges when the skate that is on the ice.
  • And as always, stumbles, bobbles and falls are not acceptable.

For more information on ice dance in general and its guidelines, look fir the ice dance handbook on the ISU website.

The Short Dance – The Finnstep

As mentioned earlier, ice dance went through a major overhaul after the 2009/2010 season with the elimination of the compulsory dances (CD) and original dances (OD). These two segments were in a way, combined to create the Short Dance (SD). The short dance has a theme and specified rhythm for the music like in the OD as well as a dance pattern that used to be a CD. The dance pattern used this season is the Finnstep. By itself/as a compulsory dance, the Finnstep looks like this:

In the short dance, skaters have to incorporate two sequences of the Finnstep into the program, along with a step sequence, side-by-side twizzles and a short lift.

Someone has written a blog post and made video to serve as a guide to the Finnstep pattern: has also created an easy guide to the Finnstep, which may be a little easier to digest. This guide shows you the three distinct sections of the Finnstep.

Musicality is perhaps even more important in ice dance in that the required dance pattern tests the skaters ability to recognize the beat in the music and time the set movements in the dance to the music. The Finnstep should have a tempo of 104 beats per minute and the music for the sequence should be in 2/4 time. The accent in movement should occur at the beginning of the beat.

So, now that we know that the Finnstep is divided into 3 sections and that skaters need to keep the beat, let’s take a look at this particular skating protocol to understand mistakes that skaters can make:

Shibutani SD Protocol

Here, we have Maia and Alex Shibutani’s protocol for their SD at Skate America this season. We see can identify the two Finnstep sequences by their codes:


With the 2 after the “FS,” we know that Maia and Alex didn’t do very well since they were graded a level 2 on each Finnstep sequence and the end of the code gives us a clue as to why without having to watch the program. The Y, N and T mean yes, no and timing respectively and it indicates whether or not the team has done the pattern correctly and with the right timing.

Y = elements in the dance pattern done correctly, with the right timing
N = elements in the dance pattern done incorrectly, either with or without the right timing
T = elements in the dance pattern done correctly but without the right timing

So in the end, what on earth are ice dancers supposed to do while doing the short dance?

  • Skaters should skate the dance pattern correctly, with the right timing.
  • Skaters should have speed and power throughout the dance.
  • When skaters skate the dance pattern, they should attempt to fill up the rink as much as possible with their pattern.
  • The choreography, music and costumes should reflect the mood of the dance pattern. In the case of the Finnstep, the dance should be light, fun, like sparkling champagne. The Finnstep sequence should also be skated crisply and cleanly.
  • In the Finnstep, edges should be deep when the steps are long to contrast with the sections with light hops and toe steps. Skating posture should be upright.

So now that you know all about the Finnstep, and you’ve seen Tessa and Scott do the Finnstep as a CD, try to identify the two Finnstep sections in their SD this season!

Enjoy the Finnstep while you can this season because the ISU sets a new pattern for the SD each season!

~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

Skating 101: Pairs Skating Elements

Pairs skating is an exciting discipline with its tall lifts, huge tricks and blazing chemistry between partners. In terms of the skating, there are a lot of elements in pairs skating that we don’t see anywhere else. For this Skating 101 post, we’ll be talking about these moves that take our breath away.

Pang Qing, Tong Jian

In my Skating 101 post on jumps, I featured a video that helped viewers figure out how to tell all the jumps apart. What I might not have mentioned is that in figure skating, partners are required to do side by side jumpsĀ in which partners have to jump, as you guessed it, side by side. Partners are expected to be in perfect unison throughout the entire jump. In pairs skating, we also see throw jumps (also mentioned in the Skating 101 jump post) where the man assists the lady in a jump by throwing her in the air. The lady is expected to land the jump smoothly despite being thrown a pretty big distance off the ice. There’s nothing else I can really say about this but here is a great interactive page on throw jumps by ESPN featuring Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir.

In my Skating 101 spins post, I talked about Side by Side Spins and Pairs Spins already so check out the post (links at the end of this post) in case you don’t remember what they are.

Now, onto some new elements only seen in pairs skating!

Death Spirals

A death spiral is when the man swings his partner in a circle while acting as a pivot. Death spirals differ by their entries (whether the lady is facing forward or backwards) and the edges (inside or outside). The video above shows the four different types of death spiral. Look carefully at whether the lady is rotating forward or backwards and the edge of her skate that’s on the ice.

In a death spiral, the team should enter smoothly into their respective positions and not lose speed throughout the entire element.

Pairs Lifts

Aliona Savchenko Robin Szolkowy SA 2011 LP

In both pairs and ice dancing, there are lifts but the lifts of each discipline differ on one fundamental aspect: pairs lifts are usually done overhead while it is illegal to do overhead lifts in ice dance. There are many different positions for pairs lifts as well as their own variations. Here is a link to a page describing the various different lift positions in pairs skating.

Ideally, lifts should be done effortlessly and any transitions between positions should be done smoothly. The man should not lose speed as he glides on the ice with his partner. At the same time, partners can make the lift even more difficult by having many changes of positions or a complicated entry or exit from the lift.

Twist Lifts

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov

The twist lift is a very difficult lift in which the man throws his partner up in the air in a horizontal position. The lady then does a specific number of rotations in the air before she is caught by her partner, still up in the air. Often, we hear announcers say that such team has done a triple twist, which means that the lady rotated three times in the air. Triple twists are standard in the upper echelons of pairs skating nowadays though some young skaters (especially the Chinese), are attempting quadruple twists. Ideally, twists should be high and the rotations should be fully completed before the lady comes back to her partner. All of this must be done while looking effortless. Pairs can make the twist even more difficult by having the lady put her arm over her head.

For the science or physics of figure skating and twists, here is a video. Twists are mentioned at the very end of the short video. Who knew that all that work on parabolas in calculus class could apply to figure skating?

Pairs Spiral Sequence

Han and Cong Worlds 2010 LP

In ladies skating, one of the most iconic elements is the spiral where the lady glides on one foot with her free leg above waist level. (Michelle Kwan’s arabesque spiral always makes me a little teary these days.) In pairs, both partners must be in spiral positions, though the positions need not to be the same. Often, partners are attached to each other while doing the spiral sequence.

Mirror Pairs

This isn’t a pairs element but rather, it’s a name for a special kind of pairs team. Similar to left and right-handedness, some skaters rotate clockwise while others rotate counter-clockwise in their spins and jumps. (Most skaters rotate counter-clockwise.) For most pairs teams, partners rotate in the same direction but for some teams, like Kristi Yamaguchi before she became a singles skater and Rudy Galindo, partners rotate in opposite directions. As a result, the goal for mirror pairs is to do their jumping and spinning elements in unison to look like mirror images of one another.

If you have any other questions or comments about pairs skating, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you! As well, feel free to suggest any future topics for Skating 101!

~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

Skating 101: Figure Skating Spins

This post took a while to make because I wasn’t really sure how I was going to tackle how to describe spins. In my last post about figure skating jumps, I posted a handy dandy video that someone else created on spins. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no such video exists for spins.

Stephane Lambiel

Figure skating spins are told apart by their position and I didn’t think that a blog post full of pictures was going to be that helpful as it would make this post super super long. So here is what’s going to be the general rundown of this post:

1. Basic Guide: Here is a link to the wikipedia page on figure skating spins. People have already created a picture gallery of many of the figure skating spins along with a short written description of what they look like.

2. Basic Guide (Sparknotes version): For those who don’t have time to peruse the wikipedia page right now, here are some common spins (many of these are listed in program requirements) as well as a personal favourite.

Combination Spin – A spin in which a skater changes their position, foot or edge (or any combination of the three) without exiting the spin.

Camel Spin

patrick chan camel spin

The camel spin is done in an arabesque position or with the free leg (the leg that’s not on the ice) parallel to the ice or higher than the hip. Some spins, like the doughnut spin and Yuna Kim’s “Yuna camel” (aka a layback bent-leg camel) are just variations of this spin.

Sit Spin

michelle kwan sit spin

The sit spin is, as the name implies, done in a sitting position where the skater’s skating leg must be parallel to the ice and the buttocks must not be higher than the knee. There are also variations of the sit spin, like the pancake spin and cannonball spin.

Layback Spin

karen chen layback

The layback spin is more commonly done in ladies figure skating whereas the previous two spins are done in both the ladies and men’s competition. The layback is done in an upright standing position with the skater’s back arched and the head is dropped back. In a classic layback (pictured above), the leg is held at an altitude position but ladies looking to fulfill the requirement of doing a layback spin have held their free legs to the side in other positions.

In addition, the arms are usually held above the body. However, some skaters will do variations of a layback spin where they hold their free leg (a catchfoot layback). Another variation of the layback (and the catchfoot layback) is where a skater holds their free leg up to their head in what is called the haircutter spin.

Biellmann Spin

denise biellmann spin2

Popularized by Denise Biellmann, this spin has been used quite often lately – especially the younger, more flexible skaters who can do a hyper-extended Biellmann (see Elena Radionova’s last spin in this program). Skaters often start in a layback position and finish in the Biellmann spin. In a Biellmann spin, the skater pulls the free leg up above their heads (it is not a Biellmann unless the foot is above the head) with one or two hands. There is also the half-Biellmann spin which is done starting with the camel spin rather than a layback.

Personal Favourite: The Pearl Spin

The pearl spin was created by Caroline Zhang and despite its pretty name, it’s actually just a catchfoot layback that transitions into the Biellmann spin. Still, it requires a lot of flexibility and power.

3. Entries and Edges

To make a spin harder, skaters can enter into a jump through very difficult transition movements. These include the:

Butterfly – The skater’s legs make a scissoring motion in the air and the skater’s body is horizontal above the ice before entering into the spin. The takeoff is done in a twisting motion with 2 feet. Some skaters will also do several butterflies in succession before entering a spin.

Death drop – Similar to the butterfly but the takeoff is done forward with one foot.

Flying spin – In which a skater does a bit of a jump before entering the jump. In the above video, some put together videos of all the ladies doing a flying combination spins at the 2013 World Championships. See how the skaters kind of switch feet and do this hop before entering into their spins?


When we learned about jumps, we learned about inside and outside edges. You can change edges in a spin as well. This makes the spin more difficult but for the average viewer, the edge change can be a little hard to spot. Personally, I wouldn’t be too worried about this if you want to be an informed viewer at the Olympics. All you should know is that changing edges makes the spin harder which brings up the level and base value of the spin.

For those of you who are a little OCD, you can spot the change of edge when the circle of the spin (when you spin, you don’t rotate on an axis but the blade makes a very small circle on the ice) gets a little bigger or changes a little. The video has annotations that point out when the skater changes edges, which makes it a bit easier to spot.

4. Pair and Dance spins

Skaters do spins in the pairs and dance competition but things change just a little bit because there are now two people on the ice.

Side-By-Side Spins – An element done only in pairs skating in which both skaters execute the same spins at the same time. The spins should be done in perfect unison and not too far from each other. If you listen closely at live competitions or in videos, you can hear one of the partners yell, “Change” when they need to change their positions. Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov start their SBS spins at 3:22.

Dance/Pairs Spin – The spins themselves are similar but are named differently depending on the discipline in which they are performed. In a dance or pairs spin, the two partners must always be connected to each other while spinning. Meryl Davis & Charlie White start their dance spin at 1:45 in the above video (in one of my favourite original dances ever too!).

5. What does it mean to do a good spin?

Under the new International Judging System (or the Code of Points System), spins are given levels ranging from 1 to 4 with 4 being the highest level. The levels take into account the difficulty of the spin as well as the number of rotations but for the casual viewer, a good singles spin should:

  • Be fast.
  • Rotate in the same spot (if a skater drifts to a side while spinning, that is called traveling).
  • The positions should look nice – the details like their extension, toe points, turned out feet should add to the aesthetics of the spin.

A good side by side pairs spin should:

  • Be in perfect unison.
  • The skaters should not be too far from each other. (They also don’t want to be too close, as Jessica Dube learned when her partner was traveling and cut her face with his skate.)
  • Each individual must also fulfill the general requirements of good singles spinning listed above.

A good dance/pairs spin should:

  • Be aesthetically pleasing. The positions should look picture perfect at any given moment.
  • Not lose speed.
  • The changes in positions should be smooth and should look effortless.

Anyways, that is all I have to say for spinning.

Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you want me to talk about? Let me know in the comments!

~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

Skating 101: The Jumps

Kim Yu Na tops short program, Asada 2nd

In skating commentary, we often hear the commentators naming the jumps. On other occasions, there’s usually some mention of how the axel is the most difficult jump. Of course, the bits of commentary are nice and all but wouldn’t it be nice to have all that information about jumps, their difficulty and how to tell them apart in one place? Well, you’re in luck.

When I first started getting interested in figure skating, I found this video which has proven to be invaluable. It lists the jumps in ascending order of difficulty, their abbreviations, the base points your receive for each jump (if performed with 3 rotations) and demonstrates how you can tell them apart. One amendment I might make is that the flip is not always entered from the 3-turn* but as long as it’s not entered in the long backwards outside edge position, it’s a lutz but that’s just a small detail. The extremely well-made video features Yuna Kim probably because she has so many dedicated fans and also because Yuna’s known to have “textbook” jumps.

When you have finished this video, try doing this little quiz (you can put your answer in the comments!): What two jumps is Mao doing in the picture above?

*Examples of not entering the flip in a 3-turn – Myrianne Samson enters the F from a slow twizzle starting from 1:23 and Daisuke Takahashi actually steps into the 3F of the 3F-3T combination at 0:41.

As for a few other things not covered in the video…

Basic Jump-Related Terms:

Combination Jump – Jumps done simultaneously one after the other. In order to be considered a combination, skaters must take off from the landing edge of the previous jump, with no steps, turns, or change of edge in between jumps. Since all jumps are landed on the right back outside edge, skaters often use the toeloop or loop as the second part of a combination since those jumps use those particular edges for takeoff. I believe at one point in the jump video, you were shown one of Yuna’s famous 3F-3T combinations.

Jump Sequence – JumpsĀ  linked by hops or non-listed jumps. The base value of the jumps is 80% of what the base value of the jumps in combination.

Zayak Rule – A rule that stipulates that skaters must perform each type of triple jump only once, or twice if one of them is incorporated into a combination or sequence. For frequent readers of my blog, you know that I had a hissy fit over Oda Nobunari’s LP at Skate Canada in which he violated this rule within the first minute. (It’s not the first time he’s done that. Or the second. Or the third…) In that first minute, Oda did 2 clean 3T. The second 3T was considered a sequence and which lowered the base value of the jump. In order for Oda to not violate the zayak rule, he could have, at the very least, tacked on a 1T at the end of one of his triple toeloops. I was rather furious at Oda partly because he’s done this so many times and partly because he could’ve won silver. I admit that I prefer Yuzuru who won silver at the competition but to me, it felt like a bit of an empty victory for him. It was just such a stupid thing for Oda to do.

Toe – A shorter name for the toeloop jump.

Throw Jump – Done only in the pairs competition, throw jumps are done the same way as jumps in singles skating except for the fact that the man assists the lady in getting off the ice by throwing her.

Common Jump Mistakes:

Popped jump – A jump in which the skater prematurely ends the rotation. Usually, skaters only achieve one rotation before landing. Popping jumps is one of the worst things you can do under the Code of Points system (yes, worse than falling), as skaters are only credited with the base value of a single jump.

Flutz – A common edge mistake where the skater takes off on the inside edge rather than the outside edge of a lutz. It wasn’t quite penalized as much or as harshly in the 6.0 system of judging but flutzes usually garner a -3 grade of execution from the judges. The camera was at a perfect angle to capture Tara Lipinski’s triple flutz at 1:35. If you stop the video there, you can very clearly see she was on the inside edge when she picked into the ice for takeoff.

Lip – A less common edge mistake opposite to the flutz where a skater takes off on an outside edge on the flip. Someone made an entire video about a flip vs. a lip here.

Underrotation – Where a skater does not fully rotate the jump by 1/4 of a rotation or more. If the jump 1/2 a rotation or more is not completed, the jump is downgraded 1 rotation. (i.e. If a skater did two and a half rotations for a 3F, the technical panel will consider it as a 2F.) Here, we have a clip of Tracy Wilson looking at two underrotated jumps by Caroline Zhang. With the slow-motion replay, we can see how most of the last rotation on her jumps were done on the ice.

Overrotation – When a skater does more than 1/4 of a rotation on their jump. It may not seem like a bad thing but overrotation is a sign of bad technique and lack of control and are usually hard to land properly. When they are landed properly, the mistake is hard to spot unless you do a slow-motion replay. If you look at the angle of the blade at which Sasha takes off and lands, you can see that she overrotated a little bit on her 3F at 1:24. You also see a lot of overrotations when men attempt to do quadruple jumps but can’t quite get a fourth rotation so they try to land after 3 rotations.

Two-footed landing – When a jump is landed with 2 feet instead of one. Usually the skater does not get enough height or cannot bend low enough in the knee to finish the jump on one foot in the usual landing position. Mao Asada’s most common mistake on her triple axel this season has been a two-foot landing like at 1:17.

Step-out – When a skater does not have enough balance to maintain the landing position. A relatively minor mistake in terms of jumping mistakes but the step-out by Anton Sikharulidze at 1:33 is the one flaw that sparked the controversy in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Hand down – When a skater puts a hand down on the ice after he or she completes a jump. From here on, the technical panel must decide whether or not the skater would have fallen without that hand to determine the deduction that he or she will incur. At 1:05, we see Shawn Sawyer drop his shoulder just slightly upon landing, which caused him to put his hand down.

Leg wrap – When the free leg (the leg not used for takeoff) is held at a right angle instead of being together and perpendicular on the ice when the skater is in the air during her jump. I love this girl but Midori Ito is a frequent offender. The most glaring example in this program is during her triple flip at 1:08. Now compare that with how Yuna’s legs are tight and straight in the air in the jump guide video. Huge difference.

Mule-kick – When a skater kicks too high to pick into the ice on a toe-jump (i.e. the toeloop, the flip or lutz). I think Caroline Zhang’s mule kick is one of the most dramatic and infamous in the skating world. You can see it here at 0:38.

Telegraphing – When a skater takes too long to set up a jump. I find that this mistake is most perceptible in the Loop jump where a skater has their legs crossed to set up the jump but looks as if they hesitate for a second or so before taking off. You can also very easily see this mistake in the Lutz where the skater holds that back outside edge for a long time before picking into the ice and taking off. Just compare Tara Lipinski’s 3Lz at 3:35 and Yuna Kim’s 3Lz at 1:00 and watch how long they stay gliding on their left foot backwards before they pick into the ice with their right foot and take off.

Fall – Well, I think we know what this means. But just in case we forget… 1:19. A fall is penalized with a 1 point deduction and negative grades of execution.

Wow, that is a lot of things that can go wrong. I didn’t realize how long this list was until I wrote it. But let’s not end this post on a bad note. Here are some flourishes that skaters add to jumps to increase their difficulty and dazzle us all. Doing these things increase the difficulty of the jump and when performed well, the judges should award skaters with a high grade of execution (GOE).

Fancypants Jumping

Difficult entries – In the jump guide video, you can see Yuna coming out of a ina bauer into a double axel. Another common but difficult entry into the axel jump is the spread eagle into the axel. You can see Ilia Kulik start his spread eagle at 0:40 which then transitions into the 3A. Takahiko Kozuka also does a lovely arabesque at 2:51, which slows him down but despite that, is able to do a beautiful 3F. Difficult entries often involve doing movements that slow down the skater before their jump so they go into it with less energy and force or a skater enters a jump from a difficult position that requires extreme edge control and power to make sure that the jump’s edges and takeoff are correct despite its unorthodox entry.

Tano/Double-tano arms – Involves extending one or two arms respectively above a skater’s head while they jump. Invented by Brian Boitano, the tano arms increases the difficulty of the jump. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s tano 2A back in the day was one of my favourite jumps. She just made that move so edgy. You can see it at 1:46. Adam Rippon has a signature double-tano triple lutz which has recently been named the Rippon Lutz. It is a thing of beauty.

Triple jump-loop-triple salchow combination – A rare and difficult combination that usually involves a lutz or flip at the beginning, followed by a half loop that counts as a single loop followed by a triple salchow. It’s very difficult to get the timing of this combination right and difficult to execute since you go into the last part of the combination (the salchow) with no preparation and no extra speed or power from the last jump. At 4:08, you see Yuzuru Hanyu doing a 3Lz-1Lp-3S combination. What’s lovely about this jump combination is the element of surprise. It almost looks as if a skater has two-footed a jump but then a 3S comes out of nowhere. Magical.

This post has become way longer than I expected it to. If I’ve left anything out, please let me know in the comments!

~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

Skating 101: Olympic Berths

For anyone who has read my posts this season, you may know that I was a little frustrated with how spots are allocated to skaters for the Olympics (and the World Championships). The frustration is felt most deeply in Japan partly because they have so many excellent, world-class men and ladies competitors and partly because Japan has such strict immigration rules. (Japanese citizens renounce their Japanese citizenship if they apply for citizenship for another country. Or vice versa, people who apply for Japanese citizenship must renounce their citizenship to other countries. This citizenship law has already affected certain skaters like Mervin Tran, a Canadian skater who won bronze at the 2012 World Championships with his pairs partner, Narumi Takahashi. The pair broke up because Mervin wanted to keep his Canadian citizenship.)

In any case, how does the International Skating Union determine how many skaters go to the Olympics?

  • First of all, this a quota of 148 competitors for figure skating at the Olympics (30 men, 30 ladies, 20 pairs teams, 24 ice dance teams). There are exceptions to this quota for skaters who may compete for the team event but not the individual event.
  • For the individual event, each country is given a certain number of spots skaters/teams.
  • The number of Olympic berths/spots is determined mostly by the results of the World Championships from the previous season. From this competition, the ISU can allot up to 24 out of 30 spots for the ladies and mens competition. 16 out of 20 spots for pairs teams and 19 out of 24 for ice dance. The following table from wikipedia gives a clear and succinct explanation:

Olympic berths table

  • If the host country hasn’t earned a spot in the competition, they are automatically granted one. However, in this case, it’s safe to say that Russia, a figure skating powerhouse, has earned multiple spots in a few disciplines.
  • The next best ranked athletes from countries who did not earn multiple spots will get 1 spot until the quotas for the World Championships are filled.
  • For the remaining spots not filled by the results of the World Championships or if any nations who have earned a spot from Worlds but decides not to send anyone, the berths are given to nations with the best ranked skaters who have not yet qualified for any spots at the Olympics but have competed in the Nebelhorn Trophy in September. Some skaters have attempted to use this rule to compete at the Olympics. For example, Fedor Andreev of Canada had planned to apply for citizenship to Azerbaijan and then skate for Azerbaijan at Nebelhorn and the Olympics. He failed to get his paperwork done in time and couldn’t compete in Vancouver.

With that said, here is a table on wikipedia showing the countries competing in figure skating and the number of spots each country has for each discipline.

Note: For non-Olympic years, this system is also used to determine the number of spots for each country for next year’s World Championships.

If you look at the table, you will see that 31 men are going to the Olympics, 1 more than the quota allows. This is because… starting in the Sochi 2014 Olympics, there will be a team event where 10 countries can qualify. Great Britain did not earn a spot in the men’s individual event but they needed to send a man in to compete in the team event, which is why the quota was exceeded.

To qualify for the team event, the country must have competitors for at least 3 out of 4 disciplines and have the most points based on the rankings of the previous World Championships calculated by the ISU. The following 10 countries have earned spots for the team event at the Olympics this year:

  • Canada
  • Russia
  • United States of America
  • Japan
  • Italy
  • France
  • People’s Republic of China
  • Germany
  • Ukraine
  • Great-Britain

Ok, so my country has gotten x number of spots for the Olympics? How do we decide who gets to be on the Olympic team?

The decision of which skaters get sent to the Olympics rests ultimately on the specific country’s figure skating federation. In Canada, the decision would go to Skate Canada, in the U.S., it would be U.S. Figure Skating, etc; etc; Each figure skating federation has their own way of deciding their World or Olympic teams. In Japan, the Japanese Skating Federation takes into account the results of the Grand Prix Series from October to December as well as the results of their National Competition.

You might also notice that in the lull between the GP series and the Four Continents/European Championships (and this year, the Olympics), there are a lot of National Championships going on. That is because some skating federations, like the U.S. use solely the results of their National competitions to determine who gets to compete in the more prestigious competitions later on in the season.

So far, the Japanese Skating Federation has announced their team for the Olympics. U.S. Nationals is happening right now and Canadian Nationals will be bearing upon us soon. The Russian and Chinese Nationals have already happened but I’m having a little trouble finding a definitive list for their Olympic teams. If you have any information, please let me know in the comments! I will be forever grateful.

For more information on Olympic qualification for figure skating, you can consult this document written by the ISU.

~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

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

Skating 101: History of the Code of Points Judging System

As promised, I’m doing a series on the basics of being a smart figure skating viewer after a friend told me she didn’t quite understand some of the terms I used in the blog. Anecdotally, there seems to be some readers who are tuning in because of the Sochi 2014 Olympics and I’m writing these posts partly to allow viewers of the Sochi Olympics to be a little more informed about the sport and partly because this will be a learning experience for me. In any case, I decided to start with something of a dull but very important topic in order to understand figure skating today: the Code of Points or International Judging System that is used in figure skating today. After writing this, I decided to divide this subject into two posts for easy reading.

bs sp 2002 gold

Let’s start this with an anecdote from me and a major event in figure skating history shall we?

The 6.0 judging system confused me when I got back to figure skating. Back when I was a kid, the 6.0 system was easier to swallow: skaters were rated out of 6 for two things: technical elements and presentation (also referred to as “artistry” by commentators). Back then, I didn’t care too much about the deductions or whatnot, as long as there was some sort of score and ranking. When I grew up and came back to being a figure skating fan, the commentary from the 6.0 era confused the heck out of me. So… judges had to be conservative for some skaters because more skilled skaters were skating after him/her? There was a 0.1 deduction for a fall and a 0.1 deduction for a hand down even though one is more jarring and breaks the flow of the program more than the other? Somehow none of the scores out of 6 really mattered, but the rankings did because the scores don’t necessarily reflect how the skater should be ranked? What!?!?!?

The current CoP system gets a lot of flack for having so much math involved but I honestly cannot understand the logic behind the 6.0 system other than viewers can easily understand the scores. 6.0 was considered to be the paragon of perfection back in the day and viewers would hold their breath in anticipation, hoping that their favourites would receive that elusive score. It was thrilling, I admit but there were a few deeper issues within that judging system:

1. There was no systematic way to determine objectively the difficulty of a program and reward skaters who skated more difficult programs well.

2. 0.1 deductions were used for a variety of mistakes such as a step-out, a hand down or a fall. However, these basic 0.1 deductions did not take into account that mistakes were not created equal and some of them were more indicative of a lack of technique or concentration than others.

3. Despite being divided into 2 different components: technical elements and presentation, the scores did not tell the skater exactly what was wrong with their program or performance. For example, a skater could have gotten a score of 5.5 because he or she made a few mistakes at a particular performance or it may have been the combination of a weak program with a few mistakes. Either way, the skater doesn’t really know what they should improve on.

4. There was a sense of having to “wait one’s turn” – scores were given with more subjective bias as judges had to take into account who was skating after a certain competitor. Consequently, a young up-and-coming skater could get more conservative scores even after a good performance just because some highly-ranked veterans were skating after him/her.

Yes, there were all these flaws but the 6.0 system was used… until this happened.

In the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, two teams were head to head in the race for gold: Elena Berezhnaya & Anton Sikharulidze of Russia and Jamie Sale & David Pelletier of Canada. The latter were trailing behind B&S after the short program and both teams skated the long programs you see above.

Sikharulidze made the very obvious mistake of stepping out of a double axel while Sale & Pelletier seemed to have skated a flawless performance. American news commentators were already declaring a Canadian victory but the judges’ verdict came in: the Russians had won. Later on, upon investigation, it was alleged that the French judge was pressured by her skating federation to score the Russians well in pairs and in exchange the Russians would help bolster the scores of a French ice dance team. However, as this came to light, the French judge issued a signed statement that she did not participate in such a deal and that she thought that the Russians deserved to win.

As for me, I hold the unpopular opinion as a Canadian that the Russians deserved to win and here is the major reason why: despite Anton’s step-out, which is a minor mistake in terms of jumping mistakes, Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze skated a more difficult program. Here are a few things you can look for as you watch it:

1. B&S used difficult entries and elements into their skating. Examples: At 2:31, you see them enter into what is called spirals which then transitions smoothly into a death spiral and the exit out of a lift at 4:14.

2. There were a lot more transitions like spread eagles, spirals and intricate choreography used between big elements like jumps or lifts.

3. Two foot skating (mostly backwards) was reserved to build up speed in preparation for elements. It was not a major part of the choreography. (This is important as a contrast point to S&P’s program as you will see below.)

4. The program did not include major pauses, especially in the middle.

In contrast, here are some things that made Sale & Pelletier’s program a lot less difficult than the Russian’s:

1. There was A LOT of (mostly forward) two-foot skating. A large part of the program involved P&S skating halfway around the rink, often forward and on two legs (which is the easiest thing to do). This takes away from the difficulty of their program.

2. Compared to the Russians, this program had less intricacies like difficult exits or in general, transitions between or into elements – something that goes back to the whole overuse of forward two-foot skating. At 0:19, S&P exit from their side-by-side jumps, skates forward on two feet for twelve seconds (save for that small part where Jamie does a little bit of a spiral before doing forward-two foot skating again) and then enter into a lift. Compare that with B&S’ first lift at 3:27: coming out of a step sequence, they do three backwards crossovers, go into a spiral position and enter into the lift.

3. There were two long pauses in the middle of the program. Sometimes pauses are part of the choreography but they’re also a chance to take a small break midway through the program.

There may have been one advantage that S&P’s program might have had over B&S: a program that was easier to relate to. B&S used the music of Thais’ Meditation; we weren’t quite sure of the story but it was a skillfully executed piece of art. In contrast, S&P’s “Love Story” program had a romantic storyline, complete with snowball fights and crescendos that tug at the heartstrings. It didn’t hurt that the story is basically the predecessor of Nicolas Sparks’ “A Walk To Remember” either.

Nonetheless, this entire scandal broke out and a second set of gold medals were awarded. At this point, we could talk about cheating judges and whatnot but the judges were just a surface issue compared to the systemic problem of the way skaters were judged. To make my point, here were the scores for each of the skaters:

2002 olympic pairs scores

It’s clear that for the technical merit mark, S&P got higher scores but in general, we can see that the scores out of 6 mattered very little and were not an objective and systematic way to evaluate skaters. If two skaters got 5.7 for technical merit, it does not necessarily mean that they skated just as well as each other technically. Many of the flaws of the 6.0 judging system came out of the woodwork in the 2002 scandal and in 2004, the Code of Points (CoP) judging system was instated as a result.

The new system isn’t perfect either but I think it’s a more objective alternative to the 6.0 system. I’ll go into some of the basics of the CoP in my next post which will be coming out soon.

Which judging system do you prefer and why? Let me know in the comments!

~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