How Competitive Figure Skating Works


Breaking Down the Score
USA's Alexa Scimeca Knierim (front second from left) and Chris Knierim (front second from right) react in the 'kiss and cry zone' after competing in the Figure Skating Team Event at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9, 2018. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

With all of the technical responsibilities of scoring moved to an appointed panel, the judges are free to focus on the athletic and artistic merit of the performances, as well as the other program components. Scored on a scale of .25 to 10, these components are:

  • Skating skills: The overall quality of the performance, flow on the ice, edge control and technique. The judges also take into consideration how effortless the skater's acceleration and deceleration are.
  • Transitions/linking footwork and movement: The variety and difficulty of footwork, movements and positions performed.
  • Performance/execution: The performance value, which is how well the skater or pair of skaters interpret the choreography and music. Judges also look at the execution of the routine, which includes the precision and quality of movements performed.
  • Choreography/composition: The concept and vision behind the program, as well as its originality and how well the movements match the music
  • Interpretation: Perhaps the most artistic and intangible component, interpretation is how the skater or pair of skaters translate movement to match the music.
  • Timing: How well the athletes skate in time with the music, as well as how well they translate the rhythm into the choreography

The technical score (also called the element score) is a substantial portion of the overall score. Each maneuver is assigned a level of difficulty, or base value prior to competition. During the performance, the judges give a grade of execution in the range of +3 to -3 to each move performed. Then, the base value and the grade of execution are combined to determine the total element score.

A skater's final score is reached by adding his or her technical score and the presentation score. Their scores for short program and free skate scores are tallied together to form a final overall score.

Skaters wait for scores to be announced in an area known as the "kiss and cry zone." The purpose of this area is for skaters to do pretty much that — kiss and cry with their parents, managers, coaches and other supporters while they wait for the judges to render an overall score. At the end of each competition, every skater is given a breakdown of his or her scores and how he or she was evaluated.

Competitive figure skating is bound by the iron-clad International Skating Union rules, and there's seemingly little room for error. But figure skating scandals are some of the most salacious in the wide world of sports. We'll take a look at a few of them on the next page.

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