Winter Olympics 2022 - How are figure skating scores judged? Who chooses outfits?
Figure skating is beautiful, it is elegant, it showcases the most extraordinary skill - but it is also very complicated and confusing. Just what goes into deciding scores? And who decides what the skaters wear? That last bit is a lot more detailed that you might expect - but Eurosport has you covered. Here we break down what many consider the Winter Olympics’ greatest spectacle.
'Unreal' - French duo Papadakis and Cizeron set new world record with ice dance at Beijing
Figure skating can be as complicated as it is beautiful.
Already, Nathan Chen has wowed us with sublime skill at the Winter Olympics, while Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron produced an ice dancing performance which was simply stunning - but how do judges get the scoring right? And who decides on those outfits?
It is pure theatre and that is why figure skating is widely considered to be the most popular sport at the Games. But beyond being wowed by its elegance and beauty, it is often difficult to understand how the competitors are scored, and what constitutes a mistake - but don't worry, Eurosport has you covered.
Watch unforgettable moment Chen seals gold with ‘special’ performance to Rocket Man
How does scoring work?
First up, there are two different disciplines in figure skating, with singles and pairs judged slightly differently to ice dance.
When a score flashes up on your TV/tablet/smartphone, chances are your eyes immediately dart to the ranking given it's hard to know what the number actually means. So how is figure skating scored?
Well, nine judges rate the skaters in two categories: technical score (TES) and programme component score (PCS).
The TES component sees the judges grade the difficulty level and execution of the various moves – jumps, spins and step sequences. Each move has a base value, with judges awarding points on a sliding scale depending on how it is performed. Once the points for each move are totted up, the highest and lowest scores are eliminated. The average of the remaining seven scores is added to the base value.
The PCS scale covers:
Transitions (footwork and movement that link all elements)
Performance (choreography, emotion)
Composition (how the arrangement is put together)
Performance and execution (style, precision, personality)
Like the technical component, the top and bottom scores are wiped, with the remaining seven scores then averaged. Then to add to the complication, this score is multiplied by a factor that is different for men and women to give the PCS score. Basically, this is to ensure that the TES and PCS have equal weight.
The technical score is added to the PCS for the final score for each programme/dance. Given the various intricacies, it makes it rife for debate long after the scores have been given.
Scoring is very similar to singles and pairs in that it also uses the PCS scale, but where it differs is what judges are looking for. The big difference between the disciplines is that in ice dance, elements like throw jumps and overhead lifts are not allowed.
Instead, officials will be looking mostly at elements like ‘twizzles’, which the International Skating Union describes as “a travelling turn on one foot with one or more rotations which is quickly rotated with a continuous (uninterrupted) action.” There are also dance lifts and spins and step sequences - which have rules about how far apart the dancers can be.
Then there is, of course, the choreography - and its complexities.
'Sensational finish' - Team GB's Gibson and Fear 'produce' in ice dance
This is a lot more complicated than you might think and it often begins with the skater and goes all the way up to the highest officials of a governing body for sign-off.
The outfits are custom made and sometimes they are produced by some of the world’s most well-renowned designers, meaning they often cost thousands of pounds.
Designers are often frustrated by the constant changes that are requested by the figure skaters. They will listen to the music over and over again to try and incorporate that into their visualisation of the costumes, before going back and forth to discuss practicalities (we have seen many a wardrobe malfunction…).
It would not make sense, for example, to dance to music from Swan Lake in a fluorescent outfit - and that would be noticed by judges. Skaters will also be marked down if part of their equipment falls on to the ice.
There are some must haves. Skirts have to be part of a woman’s outfit but there are various ways of incorporating that, while men are not technically allowed to wear tights or leggings, but as long as they *look* like trousers, they probably will not be marked down.
In short, then, who decides the outfit? Many designers would answer: “too many people”.
- - -
Watch every moment of Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on discovery+