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Your Ultimate Guide to Understanding Figure Skating at the Olympics

Ever wonder what the announcers mean when they narrate through the entire performance, brutally savaging the hopes and dreams of a young Olympian, or praising the magnificent quads and triple axels of the reigning world champion? I, for one, am always profoundly shocked that anyone could even judge the amazing programs that each skater brings to the ice. But after taking a look at the judging system, it seems that these Olympic figure skaters have high expectations to meet.

Basic Required Elements

For the men’s short program, the required elements are a double or triple axel, a triple or quadruple jump, a jump combination, a flying spin, a camel spin or sit spin with a foot change, a spin combination with a foot change, and one step sequence. For the women’s short program, the required elements are a double or triple axel, a triple jump, a jump combination, a flying spin, a layback spin, a spin combination with a foot change, and a step sequence. 

Mirai Nagasu after landing the triple axel, making her the first female American figure skater to do so in the Olympics.

Nathan Chen performing a jump.

Judging System

The point system used by the International Skating Union operates on a grade of execution, or GOE system. Each technical element has a specific numeric base value, and on top of that, a value for their grade of execution that ranges from -3 to 3. This score corresponds to how well the skater performed that element. Furthermore, each element performed in the second half of the program receives a 10% bonus.

There is also a program component score, which reflects the artistry of the skater’s performance. The component score is broken down into five categories scored from a range of 0.25 to 10.00 in quarter increments. These five categories are skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, and interpretation. Skating skills refers to how well the skater moves over the ice – if they look effortless and smooth or scratchy and messy. Transitions refers to the skater’s footwork in the periods between technical elements. Good transitions bring all the elements together smoothly and cleanly rather than simply going from finishing an element to preparing for the next element. Performance is the overall quality of the program, how well the skater engages the audience and how well the skater presents their personality on ice. Composition is the choreography of the program. This includes the spacing over the ice, how the elements are connected, and if it matches the music. Interpretation refers to how well the skater matches the music – if they are in time to the music, reflect each musical ornament, etc.







Katrina is a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon majoring in chemical engineering. She loves reading, watching Friends, listening to music, photography, and anything cozy. 
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