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What to Know About the Winter Olympic Figure Skating Events

If you were to survey a large cohort of people about their favorite events to watch at the Olympics, many would enthusiastically respond with figure skating. Figure skating at the Olympics is a sport characterized by beauty, grace, athleticism, precision, strength, flexibility, and technique, and Olympic figure skating routines are brief demonstrations of talent, skill, and athletic prowess.

Watching figure skating at the Olympics is always a memorable experience. As viewers, we watch with bated breath as a competitor approaches a figure skating jump, and cheer from the comfort of our armchairs when they stick a landing. We also study every second of slow-motion replays of epic figure-skating falls. Feed your excitement and anticipation for figure skating at the Olympics with our guide to Olympic figure skating below.

Is Figure Skating Part of the Olympics?

Winter Olympics rings with the images of athletes within.

Figure skating is absolutely part of the Olympics and has been since before the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in 1924. In fact, though now a Winter Olympics sport, figure skating was first contested at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London where figure skating events included pairs, men’s singles, and women’s singles. Olympic figure skating events are very popular and often draw a record number of viewers.

What Are the Figure Skating Events At the Olympics?

Figure skater with leg above her head.

There will be five medaled figure skating events at the Olympics in Beijing: Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, Pairs, Ice Dancing, and Team Event. Ice Dancing has only been an event at the Winter Olympics since 1976, while the figure skating Team Event debuted in 2014. There are different portions of each event. For example, Singles, Pairs, and Ice Dance have a short program (or short dance) and a free skate or free dance.

In the short program, competitors are permitted to choose their own music and choreography, but must perform certain jumps, spins, and sequences. The free skate is more of a showcase of athletic endurance and artistry, while competitors try to nail their elements. There are no required elements — though there are maximums established for the elements the skater attempts. Therefore, athletes have greater creative freedom for the free skate portion of their event.

How Does the Judging Work for Figure Skating At the Olympics?

Female figure skater doing a jump.

A skater’s marks in figure skating at the Olympics are determined by the judges and the technical panel. The role of the technical panel is to identify the elements of the skating routine (the specific jumps, spins, sequences, etc.) along with their level. Each element has a specific base value based on the predetermined points on the Scale of Values. The technical panel also determines whether the attempted elements were executed properly or if there were technical flaws. For example, if a figure skating jump is under-rotated (say, two and a half rotations for a triple toe loop), the skater receives deductions.

The nine figure skating judges then evaluate each of the elements identified by the technical panel based on the quality of their execution. There are seven possible grades of execution for each figure skating element (-3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3), which are then combined with the base value of the element to determine the score for that component. Additionally, the judges determine the marks for the artistry of the routine, which is called the Program Components.

What Is the Format of the Figure Skating Events At the Olympics?

Couples skating at the olympics with matching outfits.

The different figure skating events at the Olympics have somewhat unique competition formats.

  • The Singles and Pairs both have a short program and a free skate component for each competitor or pair. The short program must be between 2 minutes, 30 seconds and 2 minutes, 50 seconds. The women’s free skate must be between 3 minutes, 50 seconds and 4 minutes, 10 seconds. Men and pairs are given an additional 30 seconds on that range. In the Singles figure skating events, the top 24 competitors from the short program advance to the free skate, whereas in the Pairs event, the top 16 couples advance onward.
  • Ice Dance has two components: a short dance and a free dance. The short dance is between 2 minutes, 40 seconds and 3 minutes, while the long program is 4 minutes plus or minus 10 seconds. The top 20 competitors from the short dance portion advance to the free dance.
  • There are eight portions of the Team Event. For each discipline, there is a short program/short dance and a free skate/free dance. The top five counties after the short program advance to the free skate portion.

How Many Figure Skaters Make It to the Olympics?

A maximum of 30 competitors each are accepted for the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles at the Olympic Winter Games. Twenty pairs can compete in Pairs, and there can be 24 couples for ice dancing. Finally, only 10 countries are entered into the Team Event. In most cases, athletes entered in the figure skating events at the Olympics are those that placed well for their country at the 2021 World Championships or the Nebelhorn Trophy in September 2021.

How Old Do Figure Skaters Need to Be to Compete At the Olympics?

Male figure skater gracefully skating.

Figure skating notoriously draws some of the youngest competitors at the Olympics, particularly in the women’s figure skating events. All figure skating competitors at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing must have turned 15 prior to July 1, 2021.

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