Figure skating is a sport in which skaters, either individually or as a pair, perform acrobatic manoeuvres on the ice, such as leaps, spins, lifts, and footwork. The patterns (or figures) that skaters produce on the ice are whence the sport got its name.
Freestyle, pairs, ice dance, and synchronised team skating are all types of figure skating. For each skating discipline, the competitors’ styles and the techniques they employ change. In recent years, figure skating’s popularity has skyrocketed, making it a fan favourite during Winter Olympics.
Athletes Who Were Among the First to Compete
An early account of figure skating can be traced back to a 1772 book written in English by Robert Jones.
Before American Jackson Haines’s mid-1860s introduction of open and expressive tactics based on dance movement, the sport’s aesthetic was constrained and rigid. Haines’ work, known as the International style, was well-received in Europe but did not gain traction in the United States until well after his untimely death at the age of 35.
Haines’s approach was formalised in the early 20th century by American actors Irving Brokaw and George H. Browne, who showed it to American audiences. The first American to compete for his country abroad, Brokaw placed sixth at the 1908 Olympics. Browne established a national skating association and staged the inaugural U.S. championships in 1914 for men, women, and pairs. He also authored two influential books on the sport.
As a student of Jackson Haines, Canadian Louis Rubenstein contributed significantly to the evolution of the sport of figure skating. He spearheaded the movement to establish skating’s regulatory bodies in the US and Canada, which paved the way for official competitions and standardised testing.
The National Amateur Skating Association in the United States and its Canadian counterpart, the Amateur Skating Association of Canada (now known as Skate Canada), were both founded with his assistance.
The United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) was created in 1921 as a successor to the International Skating Union of America (ISUA), which was founded in 1914 and included both American and Canadian members.
At its inception, there were just seven skating clubs in the entire country; by the turn of the century, however, it supervised more than 400 clubs with a total of around 100,000 skaters.
Winners of the 20th Century
Though women now outnumber men in figure skating, this was not always the case. Skating was limited to males for the inaugural world championships in 1896, which took place in St. Petersburg.
Ice dancing didn’t debut until 1952, and pairs dancing didn’t appear until 1908. Madge Syers, a British athlete, made history in 1902 as the first female to compete in a sport at the world championship level.
Syers competed in the London world championships because the regulations did not discriminate based on gender, and she came in second place, behind only Salchow, who gave her his gold medal out of humility.
A distinct women’s division, which Syers won the first two years running, was finally formed three years after the ISU regulations were altered to stipulate that women may not enter the event.
Recent Shifts and Developments
Some close competitions may have been decided by judges voting in East-West blocs during the Cold War (1947-1989). United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, and Italy frequently demonstrated support for athletes from their countries, while the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria often voted as a unit.
While political bias may have been at play in some cases, it is also possible that some judges’ decisions were based purely on personal preference.
To give one example, eastern bloc judges have traditionally shown a strong preference for classical music and balletic dancing over works that feature more popular cultural themes. Voting along political and cultural lines persists, albeit to a lesser extent than in the early 1990s.
Jumps in the sport have become increasingly complex over time. For instance, in the 1980s, the triple jump became a key event for both men and women, and in the 1990s, the quadruple leap gained prominence among males.
In competition, Canadian Vern Taylor nailed the triple axel for the first time in 1978 at the World Championships in Ottawa. Midori Ito of Japan was the first female to successfully perform the jump eleven years later, at the international championships in Paris.
Figure Skating Went through a Rough Patch in the ’90s.
In 1991, compulsory figures were removed from competition, benefiting the more athletic freestyle skaters. Since compulsory figures were the most essential part of the sport until the late 1980s, skaters who were good in figures might win championships without having strong freestyle-skating techniques.
The 1960s saw them account for 60% of the total score at national and international championships, but by 1968, that percentage had dropped to 50%. As a result of the introduction of the shorter programme in 1973, the weight of the numerical components of the score was lowered to 40%.
After the 1990 World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ISU finally eliminated figures from all international events after 17 years of gradually decreasing their weight. Skaters who practised figures claimed to improve their edge control, balance, and footwork, while those who didn’t said it was dull and uninteresting compared to the athleticism and beauty of freestyle skating.
In the 1990s, there was also a shift in the regulations that defined pros and amateurs. Since then, amateurs at all levels (novice, junior, and senior) have been able to compete in and receive money from ISU-sanctioned tournaments and endorsement deals.
Types of Figure Skating
Complex manoeuvres on the skateboard, including spirals (long, uninterrupted glides on a single edge), spins, and leaps, are all part of the freestyle category.
Skaters show off their agility, dexterity, and speed with footwork, which consists of step moves performed in sequences down the length of the ice or around the rink. The skater alternates between linear, circular, and serpentine motions. Skater musical interpretation is also demonstrated through footwork.
Programs (both short and lengthy for intermediate and higher levels) at most amateur competitions are set to instrumental music, and skaters wear costumes constructed of lightweight fabrics that allow for maximum flexibility and vigorous body movement. Skaters should wear costumes that are both aesthetically pleasing and relevant to the songs they are performing.
Skaters perform jumps, which are arguably the sport’s most defining characteristic. Although all leaps end up in the same rotating position in the air and are landed on one foot, they are differentiated by their respective takeoff positions.
The salchow, loop, and axel are all examples of edge jumps, while the toe loop, flip, and lutz are all examples of toe jumps, which are edge jumps assisted by a vault off the toe pick. The axel stands out from other jumps because it is the only one that requires the skater to take off while moving forward, and also because it has an extra half-revolution.
(The double axil rotates twice as fast.) It is the number of spins while in the air that further categorises a jump as a single, double, triple, or quadruple. One leap might be followed by another in rapid succession; for instance, a triple axel could be followed by a triple toe loop.
The outer or inner edge of the blade towards the back is typically used for spins. Sit spins are performed while seated, with the body supported by the leg that controls the spin and the free leg extended beside the bent skating leg.
The layback spin is achieved by arching the back and lowering the head and shoulders of the skater toward the surface. One leg must be stretched parallel to the ice in order to perform a camel spin, while the other leg controls the rotational speed.
An upright scratch spin can be executed on either a back inside or back outside edge, with the toe pick scratching the ice providing stability, depending on which foot the skater is spinning on.
In order to achieve the blur effect, skaters simultaneously pull in their arms and free leg, causing centrifugal force. When a skater performs a combination spin, they spin in a variety of positions and on different feet. It may take a skater several seconds to recover from the dizziness of the long spins, but after years of training, they are able to do it with ease.
Competition For Two Skaters
Skaters compete in the pairs skating event by executing leaps and spins together, as well as lifts, throw jumps, and death spirals as partnered elements.
Pair skaters who are very skilled at their art exhibit a smooth, even, and symmetrical progression over the rink. In pairs skating, it’s crucial to perform components in unison.
Double and triple jumps, spins, and footwork are all elements that both partners accomplish when they are not touching. The components are carried out simultaneously and must be carried out with perfect symmetry and at the same speed.
In couples skating, lifts are among the most visually striking moves. One of the most fundamental lifts involves the man lifting his partner off the ice and balancing her overhead with his arms fully extended as he skates in front of her.
The male performs the star lift by lifting his partner by her hip as she makes a “star” shape with her legs, arms, and head. In order to perform a twist lift, both skaters must go backwards while the guy lifts and tosses his partner over his head.
A lady can spin in the air for up to three times before her partner catches her at the waist and gently sets her back down on the ice. The hydrant lift is performed by the man tossing his partner over his head while skating backward, followed by a half-turn and a catch with his partner facing him.
Man in front, lady behind; that’s the toe overhead lift as the duo glides down the ice. She helps her takeoff by tapping her toe into the ice as the man lifts her into the air and sets her back down on the ice.
Moves Involving Spinning and Throwing
In the death spiral, a man spins on the toe pick of one skate and the edge of the other while a lady clasps his hand with an extended arm, a move that is exclusive to pairs skating.
She then arches her body and puts her head toward the ice as she leans horizontally over the ice on one edge. The first step in a throw leap is for the couple to skate at a fast speed together.
The male then extends an arm to help the woman jump, and she uses the momentum to do as many as three spins (quads have recently been attempted) in the air before landing in a backward skate position.
Like jumps in singles skating, a female skater’s choice of edge at takeoff will dictate the sort of throw she performs (salchow, toe loop, loop, or axel).
While both ice dance and pairs skating involve two skaters working together, ice dancers are not allowed to jump and can only perform limited types of lifts. Instead, ice dancers put their attention on developing unique footwork and body movements that convey dance in a unique way.
There are restrictions on how long and how far apart couples can be from one another to keep the dance looking more like a dance and less like a pairs routine.
Partners should be in dancing position with one another except when the team is switching places or completing a regulation lift. Both skates must remain on the ice at all times during the original dance, and during the free dance, with the exception of lifts.