There are four disciplines in figure skating: Men’s single skating, Women’s single skating, Pair skating and Ice dance.
Like single skaters, the Pairs perform jumps and spins individually one beside the other. However, some of the main characteristics of pair skating are overhead lifts, where the woman is lifted above the partner’s shoulders, spirals, twist lifts, pair spins and throw jumps. The key element of this discipline is the ability to skate in unison. The partners, whether they are skating together or alone, must be synchronized in their movements, lines, gestures and steps.
While pair skating includes overhead lifts and jumps, Ice dance puts an emphasis on rhythm, interpreting the music and the steps. Its beauty resides in creativity, in the choreography and in its theatrical and innovative aspects. Some key movements in the dance are lifts, in which the woman can’t reach over the shoulder of the partner, step sequences, dance spins and twizzles.
Both single skaters and pairs must perform a Short Program and a Free Skate Program. In the ice dance, the programs are called Rhythm Dance and Free Dance
The Short Program and the Rhythm Dance are performed as first segments of each competition and have a duration of 2.40 min and 2.50 min respectively (both with a tolerance of + or – 10 seconds) in all categories.
The Free Skating and Free Dance, instead, last 4 minutes (+/- 10 seconds) in all disciplines of the Senior category, while the Juniores have only 3.30 min (+/- 10 sec) to complete the elements.
The athletes generally chose the music for their programs and on that they build the choreography, which must include a variety of technical elements. Traditionally, the choice of music used to be limited to instrumental songs, but since the 2014-2015 season, songs with lyrics are now allowed. (in the Dance disciplines was already allowed by the 1997-98 season).
The technical elements include jumps, spins and steps and, for pairs, lifts, twist lifts, spins and throw jumps. In the Dance category, the technical elements include lifts, that must be of a certain type and last a certain amount of time, steps, spins and twizzles.
The Technical Score is calculated by adding the point obtained for every element included in the program, which is calculated based on the difficulty and the quality of execution.
The difficulty of the spins is calculated by the number of rotations; the difficulty of the step sequences and spins is determined by the “level” of difficulty: base, 1, 2, 3 and 4, where 4 represents the highest level. The Technical Panel must determine the performed elements and their difficulty level.
The quality of execution in judged by a panel of judges using a scoring system called GOE (grade of execution), that goes from -5 (element failed or very badly executed) to +5 (element perfectly executed, with high speed and confidence). This score is added or subtracted from the base value of the elements determined by the technical panel: +5 means that the element will receive 50% more than its base value, -3 means that the element will receive 30% less than its base value.
The judging panel also expresses the score of the artistic and choreographic components of programs using 5 categories called Program Components. They are:
The scores for the program components go from 0 to 10, where 10 is perfection.
The Program Component Score and the Technical Score are summed, obtaining the Total Segment Score. To get the final score, the Total Segment Scores of short and free skate programs are added. The higher the score is, the better is the result.
A fall in one of the elements causes a loss of points, because the judges must decrease the element’s GOE, reducing its final value by 40 or 50% from its base value; the technical panel detracts 1 point and the components are also negatively influenced.
Not completing the rotation of a jump is also a serious mistake: if between one quarter and half a turn are missing, the jump loses 20% of its value and the jury reduces its GOE. If the rotation in less than half a turn, the jump is downgraded. This means that, for example, if a skater attempts a jump that require three rotations but misses half a turn, the jump will be counted as a two rotation jump.
The jury also considerably reduces the GOE of the element. A three rotation jump that has been downgraded will then have the score of a badly executed two rotation jump! The missing rotation might not be easily visible to the naked eye, but the Technical Panel can re-watch the jumps and the landings again in slow-motion and super slow-motion. For this reason the skater sometimes needs to wait a few minutes before knowing their score.
The programs for every discipline have limitations on the number of technical elements: jumps, spins, step sequences, lifts. In case a skater/pair should repeat the same element more than the allowed amount of times, the exceeding repetitions will not have any value and will occupy the spot of other technical elements.
Moreover, even if the skater makes many mistakes in the jumps, they can score a lot of points in the spins and other technical elements. The skater can also be penalized for a violation in the choice of music or costume, for not respecting the performance time, for a lift that exceeded the maximum time allowed (in the Dance) and for interrupting the program.
All the jumps land on the back outside edge. Only in case of a combination, the first jump can land on the back inside edge. Most skaters rotate counterclockwise. Some skaters rotate clockwise. In that case the starting foot is the opposite one.