Figure skaters compete at local, regional, national, and international competitions at different levels from beginner up to the Olympic (senior) level, and disciplines, including singles (men and women), pair skating and ice dancing. Skaters typically perform two programs in competition (short and long) that include elements such as spins, jumps, spirals and lifts.

The International Skating Union (ISU) regulates international figure skating judging and competitions, including the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships.  The current ISU judging system requires a competitive program to have a set number of elements, and awards points separately for each skating element performed.  The sum of these points is called the total element score (TES).

The score received for an element is based on the element base value and the grade of execution (GOE).  A technical specialist determines base value of an element by verifying the specific movements and positions of the element.  A panel of judges determines GOE marks based on the quality of the element and how well the skater executed the element.  Then, things start to get a bit more complicated as the GOE value from the twelve judges is processed using a computerized random selection of nine judges, discarding the high and low value, and averaging the remaining seven.  The average GOE value is then added to (or subtracted from) the element base value to determine the TES.  OK, still with me?

The program components score (PCS) awards points for holistic aspects of a program or other nuances that are not rewarded in the TES judging, including skating skills, transitions, performance execution, choreography, and interpretation (exception: compulsory dance has no choreography or transition marks).  Finally, the sum of the TES + PCS is the total score for a competition segment (TSS).  A skater’s final placement is determined by the total of their scores in all segments of a competition. No ordinal ranking (i.e. judge’s preference ranking) is used to determine the final results.  Got that?  Me neither, and we haven’t even gotten to the jumping which can really make a viewer’s head spin.  In fact, it’s probably the most confounding scoring in sports.  Now, let’s get to the jumps — always exciting to watch.

There are many types of jumps in figure skating, and they are distinguished by the way the skater takes off and lands as well as by the number of rotations that are completed while the skater is in the air.  However, there are only six jumps that count as jump elements in figure skating competition.  All six are landed on one foot on the back outside edge of the skate blade, but there are different take-offs. The two categories of jumps are toe jumps and edge jumps.  Toe jumps are launched by tapping the toe pick (large, jagged teeth on the front of the blade) of one skate into the ice, and include: Toe Loops, Flips and Lutzes.  Edge jumps use no toe assist, and include:  Salchows, Loops and Axels.  A jump combination is a set of jumps, each jump taking off from the landing edge of the previous jump, and there are no steps, turns, or change of edge between jumps.  Jump sequences are sets of jumps that may be linked by non-listed jumps or hops.


As with most competitive sports, there’s often some drama as a result of judging and scoring controversies.  Ashley Wagner, three-time US national champion, 2016 world silver medalist, and Olympic team bronze medalist, did not make the 2018 US Winter Olympic Team, finishing 4th at the 2018 US Figure Skating Championships as her PCS scores (the highly subjective score awarded for interpretation aspects and the like) were surprisingly low.  In fact, her PCS scores were lower in these US Championships than they had been with international judges at recent 2018 Grand Prix events.  It’s unclear what exactly went wrong for Wagner because she did not fall or make a major mistake during her programs, and she’s been criticized for expressing her anger at the judge’s scoring.  Regardless, she’s now learning to deal with the heartbreak, and deciding what to do next.  (Ashley tells her story in the short video documentary, Showpony, below)  The 2018 ISU World Figure Skating Championships are scheduled to take place in Milan, Italy, March 21-25, and as with the Olympics, Ashley Wagner was selected an alternate by US Figure Skating, and is not scheduled to compete.




If you missed the live stream broadcast of the 2017 Cup of Tyrol-Innsbruck international figure skating event, there’s still time to watch a video recording of the competition.  Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button or the posts on the video player below ↓  Next live stream broadcasts of figure skating competition are scheduled November 12, 2018 and February 25, 2019.





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Feature photo “Queen Yuna” is courtesy of Flickr user, Song Joo Chea, CC BY-ND 2.0

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Posted by Zola Zeester

Zola is a vagabond playmaker, the On2In2™ recreation guru and primary source of inspiration for this article. Currently resides at Zeester Media HQ.


  1. Very interesting story about Ashley’s Olympic dreams – the agony of defeat.

    1. “It was unwise to plan too carefully. It took only one great failure to learn that lesson.” Belva Plain (1915 – 2010), American writer

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