Sport guide – Figure Skating: a defining Olympic sport of grace, skill and artistry

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Where sports and art merge

Figure skating was the first winter sport to be contested at an Olympic Games, but it actually featured at the London 1908 and Antwerp 1920 Olympic Games before transferring to its more familiar season at Chamonix 1924. For many spectators, it remains the iconic Olympic Winter Games event.

While most disciplines find their winners through clinical timings, figure skating is a test of pure artistry: with spins, jumps, lifts, throws and other carefully choreographed moves, a panel of judges decides who will receive gold, silver and bronze.

The Olympic disciplines are pairs (medals on 15 February), men’s singles (17 February), ladies’ singles (23 February) and ice dancing (20 February). There is also a team event (which combines pairs, men’s, ladies’ singles and ice dance; medals on 11 and 12 February).

 

The basics

In the singles, competitors perform a short programme (around 2 minutes 50 seconds), which features certain required movements, and a free skating long programme (four minutes for women, four-and-a-half for men), in which moves matched to dramatic musical numbers result in some breathtaking routines.

In the pairs, featuring one male and one female skater, it is the lifts, throws and ‘death spirals’ that often dazzle.

Ice dancing – which draws heavily from ballroom – has different movement criteria, focusing more on the dance element, and not featuring throws or lifts. The team event, meanwhile, sees all four disciplines combined to get a total score for each nation, with medals awarded accordingly.

Judges reach their verdicts through a combination of scoring elements including skating skill, transitions, performance style, choreography and interpretation. Accuracy and difficulty are the key areas to clock big scores.

 

Where to watch

The action at PyeongChang 2018 takes place at the Gangneung Ice Arena, a new, 12,000-capacity facility built especially for the Games.

Many nations have produced top-class figure skaters, with the USA topping the all-time medal table (49, 15 gold). Russia (27, 15 gold) and Austria (20, seven gold) are powerhouses, too, while China and Canada have performed well over recent years.

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