Viewers Guide


This guide was created to help viewers understand some of the technical specifications of what you see on television. Although each program may look different because of costumes and music, all programs are based on some standard elements. This guide will show you what those specific elements are for short programs, and you will also learn some of the specifics about creating a well-balanced free skate or free dance. Because elements change yearly, this guide will also be updated at the beginning of every season.

There are five separate disciplines or divisions in competitive figure skating: men's singles, ladies singles, pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating. Figures were eliminated from international competition in the 1991-92 season and were last competed at the U.S. Championships in 1999.

Within singles, pairs and ice dancing there are five different competitive skill levels in the U.S. that are based on proficiency tests - juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior and senior. Each level draws on similar techniques but adheres to increasingly more difficult skills as well as different rules and guidelines.

The following information pertains to skaters competing at the senior competitive levels - the highest level within the U.S. Figure Skating competition structure.

Programs At A Glance

Singles/Pairs - Short Program
Judge's First Mark: Technical Elements
Judge's Second Mark: Program Components
Time Length: 2:50 (maximum)

Singles/Pairs - Free Skate
Judge's First Mark: Technical Elements
Judge's Second Mark: Program Components
Time Length: 4:00 +/- 10 seconds (senior ladies), 4:30 +/- 10 seconds (senior men and pairs)

Dance - Short Dance
Judge's First Mark: Technical Elements
Judge's Second Mark: Program Components
Time Length: 2:50 +/- 10 seconds

Dance - Free Dance
Judge's First Mark: Technical Elements
Judge's Second Mark: Program Components
Time Length: 4:00 +/- 10 seconds

Singles Skating

Form, style, technique, concentration and the ability to perform under great pressure are the key requirements in men's and ladies singles events. The rules are similar for both men's and ladies divisions. Each competition is composed of two separate parts: the short program, which is skated first, followed by the free skate. It consists of seven required moves or elements: three jumps, three spins, and one fast step sequence. The required elements for the 2012-13 season are as follows:

Senior Ladies
1. Double Axel or triple Axel
2. One triple jump (must be immediately preceded by connnecting steps or comparable free skating movements)
3. One jump combination consisting of one double jump and a triple jump or two triple jumps
4. Any flying spin (minimum of eight revolutions)
5. Any combination spin with only one change of foot, at least two changes of position (sit, camel or upright, or any variation thereof) and a minimum of six revolutions on each foot, two in each position.
6. Layback or sideways leaning spin with a minimum of eight revolutions
7. One step sequence

Senior Men
1. Double or triple Axel
2. One triple or one quadruple jump (must be immediately preceded by connnecting steps or comparable free skating movements)
3. One jump combination consisting of a double jump and a triple jump, two triple jumps, a quad and a double or a quad and a triple
4. Flying spin (minimum of eight revolutions)
5. Any combination spin with only one change of foot, at least two changes of position (sit, camel or upright, or any variation thereof) and a minimum of six revolutions on each foot and two revolutions in each position.
6. Camel spin or sit spin with only one change of foot and a minimum of six revolutions on each foot
7. One step sequence.

The moves may be done in any order within a 2:50 time limit to music selected by the skater. The judges award two marks: one for technical elements, and a second for program components.

The free skate has a length limitation of 4:30 +/- 10 seconds for senior men; 4 minutes +/- 10 seconds for senior ladies. Skaters select their own music and theme, and choreograph the jumps, spins, footwork and interpretive moves to best display their technical and artistic skills. Change of pace, creativity and innovative moves are encouraged. Technical and artistic perfection are paramount to the skater and to the judges.

As defined in the ISU regulations, a well-balanced singles free skate must contain:

Jumps: There is a maximum of eight jump elements for men and seven jump elements for ladies. One must be an Axel-type jump. Only two triple or quad jumps can be repeated and they must be a part of a jump combination or jump sequence. There may be up to three jump combinations or sequences. Jump combinations may not contain more than two jumps, however one jump combination may consist of three jumps.

Spins: A maximum of three spins of a different nature - one must be a spin combination, one a flying spin and one spin with only one position.

Steps: One step sequence and one choreographic sequence, which must occur after the step sequence.

Two marks also are given for the free skate - the first for technical elements, the second for program components.

Pairs Skating

Pairs skating is essentially skating performed in unison by partners, with the addition of daring and difficult overhead lifts, throw jumps and spins. The key to pairs skating is exact timing and unison. Whether the partners are together or apart, their movements should be synchronized with matching body lines, gestures and footwork.

The pairs competition, like singles, has a short program and a free skate. The judges award two sets of scores for each skate, similar to singles events - technical elements and program component marks following the short program and the same for the free skate.

The pairs short program consists of seven required elements, which include overhead lifts, side-by-side solo jumps and solo spins done in unison, footwork, pair spins and a death spiral, all performed to music of the skaters' choice. The short program is 2:50 in length and requires the following elements for the 2012-13 season:

Senior Pairs Short Program
1. Any hand-to-hand lift take-off (from Group 4)
2. One double or triple twist lift
3. One throw jump (double or triple)
4. One solo jump (double or triple)
5. Solo spin combination with only one change of foot and at least one change of position
6. Death spiral backward outside
7. Step sequence

The free skate consists of technical and artistic moves choreographed to best display the skaters' individual strengths, skills and ability to perform as a team throughout the 4:30 +/- 10 seconds program. Difficult double and triple solo and throw jumps will be seen, along with unique lifts and spins and variations on standard moves, as well as original moves. Shadow skating, in which partners perform identical maneuvers some distance apart, and mirror skating, where the pair's moves are in opposite directions and mirror each other, are challenging aspects of pairs skating.

A well-balanced pairs free skate must contain:

  • Maximum of three lifts (one must be of group 3 or 4 with full extension of the lifting arms)
  • Maximum of one twist lift
  • Maximum of two different throw jumps
  • Maximum of one solo jump
  • Maximum of one jump combination or sequence
  • Maximum of one solo spin combination
  • Maximum of one pairs spin combination
  • Maximum of one death spiral
  • Maximum of one sequence of choreography

Ice Dancing

Ice dancing, the newest Olympic figure skating event (introduced in 1976), was first seen at the World Championships in 1952, despite having been a popular recreational sport since the turn of the century. Unlike pairs skating, which features overhead lifts and jumps, ice dancing, as its name implies, is based on the different aspects of dance. The emphasis in ice dancing is on rhythm, interpretation of the music and precise steps. Its beauty lies in its limitless creativity, choreography, and its theatrical and innovative aspects.

An ice dancing competition is made up of two parts: a 2:50 short dance and a 4 minute free dance.

Short Dance
The short dance consists of required elements including dance lifts, spins, twizzles, step sequences and sequences or sections of pattern dances. Teams choose their music and choreography, but it must conform to the specified rhythms and requirements. Judges look for creativity, good interpretation of the music and rhythm, originality and utilization of the full ice surface. Two marks are given for the short dance: one for technical elements and one for program components. For the 2012-13 season, the short dance must be to either polka, march or waltz rythms.

The required elements for the short dance are:

  • Short lift not to exceed six seconds
  • One midline (not touching) or circular step sequence
  • One set of sequential twizzles
  • Two sections of the Yankee Polka

Free Dance
The free dance allows dance teams four minutes to display their full range of technical skills, interpretation and inventiveness to music and choreography of their own choice. Teams will use changes of position, intricate and varied dance holds, lifts, spins and jumps and difficult footwork to present their best ice dancing skills. The required elements are:
  • Two different short lifts and one long lift or four short lifts chosen from a list of three different types.
  • One Transitional dance lift after all other dance lifts.
  • Two different step sequences (one midline or diagonal and one circular or serpentine)
  • One dance spin or combination spin
  • One set of synchronized twizzles

Any tempo or mood can be used as long as it is danceable, and vocal music with lyrics is permitted. Two sets of marks are given, one for technical elements and one for program components.