Figure Skating: A to Z

January 24, 2013 8:28 pm

With the European Figure Skating Championships underway in the Croatian capital Zagreb, this A-Z list might clear up a few questions for the newcomers to the sport and enthusiasts alike.


A – Amateur

Figure skating is one of a few amateur sports and getting paid for teaching and performing outside of competition wasn’t allowed until recently. Today the International Skating Union (ISU) lists events and conditions under which you are allowed to earn a little extra on the side.

B – Bias

The switch from the ambiguous 6.0 system to the ISU Judging System in 2005 was an attempt at eliminating judging bias from the sport. The new system prescribes required elements that the judges grade depending on the success of the execution, even in the presentation grade. Its success remains debatable.

C – Chack

To chack someone in figure skating is a term related to broadcasting and means to cut a medal ceremony or another important performance short and got its name after Michael Chack who was the first to suffer it.

D – Death Spiral

Not as menacing as it sounds, this figure is performed by the man who rotates in a pivot position while holding one hand of his partner, who rotates in a horizontal position around him with her body low and parallel to the ice.

Death spiral

E – Edge

All the jumps look the same to you? Well, there’s more to jumping than the rotation. Many elements of figure skating are called and graded differently depending on the edge of the skate from which it was executed. Is your head spinning yet?

F – Figure

In many countries of the world, ‘figure skating’ translates as ‘artistic skating’, so why the word ‘figure’ in English? ‘Figure’ refers to the tracing on the ice made with the blade. This used to be important in the Compulsory Programme in Ice Dance where skaters skated to the same music and choreography and attempted to perform the same set choreography better than the rest.

G – Grade of Execution (GoE)

Every element has a set grade. Depending on the quality of executing each particular element, the skater can be awarded -/+3 points to every grade. This final value is called the Grade of Execution because it goes to show how successful the element was.

H – Hydrant Lift

More dangerous than the Death Spiral but without the menace in the name, this lift is performed by a man who throws his partner over his head while skating backward, rotates one-half turn and catches his partner facing him. Don’t try that on a night out.

Hydrant lift

I – Ice Dance

The youngest of the skating disciplines, this pair category is based on ballroom dancing. The easiest way to spot the difference between Ice Dance and Pairs is to look at the lifts. Ice Dancing lifts aren’t allowed to go above the head and it is one of the reasons why it is sometimes looked down on by ‘real’ skaters.

J – Jump

A jump is a rotation in the air normally executed by skating backwards and landing on one foot. Depending on the inner or outer edge of the blade, the jump is graded/called differently. Note that for a single jump, the complete rotation is 1.5 circles, for a double it’s 2.5 and so on.

K – Kiss-and-Cry

The area where the coach and skater wait for the scores is appropriately named for what goes on there. Don’t be surprised to see people kissing after mediocre performances and crying their eyes out after both disastrous and outstanding ones. Some even claim that the Kiss-and-Cry area has been helpful in popularising skating because of all the drama.

L – Land a Jump

To land a jump does not include falling down. Actually, if you landed an Axel, it means you executed the jump correctly.

M – Music

Many skating enthusiasts cannot understand why music with lyrics isn’t used more often in competition. The music rule is constantly being amended. Music with lyrics is allowed for Ice Dance competitions. This rule will apply to singles skating after the Sochi Olympics. Until then, traditional classical remains the safe choice.

N – National Championships

or Nationals for short is a state/national competition the ranking of which determines which skaters are going to be representing the country in international competitions.

O – Olympic Scandal

The mother of scandal hit figure skating at the Winter Olympics in 2002 when due to coercion of judges, two gold medals were awarded in the Pairs event before the scandal led to the change in the scoring system.

P – Programme

All skaters have to execute a Short Programme (SP) and a Free Programme (FP). The Short Programme has a prescribed set of elements that a skater has to include in the choreography and if they don’t, they can be penalised or even disqualified.

Q – The Quad

Until recently, only present in the domain of Men skating, the Quad Jump is now entering Ladies and Pairs. Under the 6.0 system, a quad or two would secure you a medal and there was even talk of the quintuple. However, under new rules, it is preferred to skate clean than to attempt a complicated jump. Unless you can land the Quad. Wicked!

R – Rivalry

Sure, it’s present in every sport, but be wary of those sequins and tassels. This week police had to settle a brawl after Canadian Nationals (although it allegedly had nothing to do with the results), but don’t forget the time when Tonya Harding arranged to have Nancy Kerrigan’s knee injured or the bickering matches between Yagudin and Plushenko. These people are experts in dealing with blades and hard falls. They don’t like it when someone stands in their way.

S – Spin

A spin is an element where the skater rotates in one place in one or more positions. The Swiss are famous for their excellent and fast spins. When their National Champion was asked why it is so, he hypothesised that Swiss Pralines might have something to do with it.


T – Techniqal Merit Mark

The first of two marks awarded which measures the difficulty of the performance, variety and cleanness.

U – Under-rotated

If a jump or a spin are under-rotated, the skater hasn’t completed the rotation as stated in the rules.

V – Van Waldenberg

A sibling skaters’ Pair in Will Ferrell’s comedy Blades of Glory whose steady rise to gold is stopped by two former rivals who form the first ever male-male Pair in order to bypass the ISU rules that got them banned from figure skating.

W – Warm-up Group

The Warm-up group denotes a number of skaters who take the ice after it has been resurfaced and warm-up together before they execute their programme.

X – Axel

An Axel is the only jump that is executed by skating forward and landing in a backward motion after making the rotations. It is considered to be one of the hardest jumps to complete. Much like the letter X.

Y – Yagudin

Most familiar as part of a rival duo with fellow Russian Plushenko. These two boys started skating together under the same coach, but Yagudin felt neglected and left. They fought for first place ever since through physical and psychological trauma. The whole thing cumulated when Yagudin won the coveted Olympic gold and was the first skater to be put in first place by all judges. He retired due to injury a year later and Plushenko won gold in the next Olympics. Still, Yagudin did it first.

Z – Zayak Rule

A rule that allows only one type of jump in a programme unless it is performed in combination.

%d bloggers like this: