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From Axel to Zayak: A viewer’s guide to Olympic figure skating

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SANDRO HALANK | CREATIVE COMMONS

Photo by Sandro Halank under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Head sports editor

FEBRUARY 02, 2022

Figure skating is one of the most popular Olympic sports. With musicality, artistry and skills that seem so unattainable to the average person, it boasts a global fanbase. However, it’s also quite a complex sport to understand. As such, here’s a viewer’s guide to figure skating for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

First, it’s important to know the four different disciplines: men’s singles, women’s singles, pairs and ice dance. While singles are pretty self explanatory, pairs and ice dance are a little more difficult to distinguish. It is easy to tell them apart by looking at the kind of elements they do –– pairs skating includes throws (where the partner quite literally gets thrown into the air), jumps and lifts above the shoulder.

Ice dance resembles ballroom dancing. The lifts are not allowed to be as high, and skaters must perform specific elements including twizzles and a patterned step sequence. Every season, there is a pattern dance and a theme: This season, the rhythms are “street dance” rhythms such as hip-hop, disco or jazz, and the pattern dance element is the Midnight Blues.

In all disciplines, there is a short program (or rhythm dance, in ice dance) as well as a free program (or free dance). This is why there are so many figure skating events at the Olympics –– that, and the fact that there is also an Olympic team event, where skaters join together with representatives of their country from other disciplines.

The short program only lasts two minutes and 40 seconds for singles and pairs. There are consequently fewer required elements. Elements include jumping passes (three in the short), spins, step sequences and a choreographic sequence in the free. Because of the “Zayak rule,” no jump can be in a program more than twice.

It’s worth noting that not all the skaters make it into the free program: Given their length, there are only a certain number of top spots to qualify to continue.

Now onto the scoring.

There are two different scores: the technical element score, or TES, and the program component score, or PCS.

The TES concerns only the technical aspect of programs, such as spins, jumps and step sequences. Each element has a “base value” –– a certain number of points that it is worth. On top of this, there is a Grade of Execution (GOE) value, which is, on a scale of negative five to five, how well you performed that specific element. If you fall on a jump, you get an automatic negative five across the board for that element.

With jumps, it is important to keep in mind that there are many kinds that are hard to tell apart for beginners. Even if a jump looks like it was executed perfectly, it could yield pretty low scores because it might have taken off from the wrong edge, or not been fully rotated.

The PCS, on the other hand, is based on other aspects of the program, including things like artistic performance and skating skills. A protocol (score sheet) demonstrates the separate scores with the TES at the top, and the PCS at the bottom.

Someone who is lacking technically but is very good artistically could make up for their lack of hard jumps with the component score. Equally, someone who is not great artistically may make up for it with the ability to do very difficult jumps.

For example, a skater like USA’s Jason Brown –– who has struggled to include quadruple jumps in his programs compared to many of his competitors –– still receives very high scores in PCS, as he is an exceptional performer.

Starting Feb. 4, the team event will commence in Beijing. Be sure to watch out for the sport’s biggest stars including Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the Russian Olympic Committee’s Alexandra Trusova and Kamila Valieva, as well as the U.S.’s Jason Brown, Nathan Chen and Bay Area local Alysa Liu.

Maria Kholodova covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

FEBRUARY 02, 2022


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