Everything You Need to Know to Watch the Olympic Winter Games

Ready to cheer on Team USA in Beijing this month? Here's what you need to know to watch your favorite ice sports. 

Every four years, winter sports’ greatest athletes come together in a test of physical and mental strength in hopes of making the podium and earning the title of Olympic champion. Figure skating, hockey and speed skating are the three ice sports that will gain attention from fans across the globe. 

If you haven’t watched these sports before, here’s everything you need to know for an entertaining Olympic Winter Games. 

Figure Skating

Events: 5 (women’s, men’s, pairs, ice dance, team)

Event Overview

In women’s, men’s and pairs, skaters compete in two segments: a short program (2 minutes and 50 seconds) and a free skate (4 minutes for women, 4.5 minutes for men and pairs). In ice dance, teams compete in a rhythm dance (2 minutes and 50 seconds) and a free dance (4 minutes).

For the team event, 10 countries will compete in the short program and rhythm dance, and the top five will compete in the free skate/free dance. Eight skaters/teams from each country compete in one segment, two from each discipline. Skaters earn points based on their placement in their segment, which are added to their country’s total.


The International Judging System (IJS) determines scores for figure skating and consists of two marks per skater: technical element score (TES) and program components score (PCS). There are two panels judging the skater: the judging panel and the technical panel. The technical panel identifies each element the skater performs and assigns a level of difficulty (ranging from 1 to 4) if necessary (i.e., A skater can receive a Level 4 on a spin, but jumps do not receive levels). The judges rate how well each element is performed with a score ranging from +5 to -5 (grades of execution).

The judging panel determines the PCS score by giving skaters a score out of 10 for their execution in skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of music. Each score is averaged and added to the TES for a total segment score. 

Following the conclusion of both events, the short program and free skate segment scores are added together to reveal a total competition score. 

Ice Hockey

Events: 2 (men’s and women’s)

Event Overview

Twelve teams will compete in the men’s ice hockey event with each team allowed up to 25 players. The women’s competition will feature eight teams with up to 23 players. In each game for both men’s and women’s, teams can dress up to 20 players, including two goalies.
No more than six players per team will be on the ice at a time and includes a goalkeeper, two wings, two defenders and one center. Each game consists of three periods each lasting 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission between the first and second periods. If there’s a tie, a five-minute overtime is played where the first goal wins the game. 

Gold Medal Games

Women compete in a 10-team tournament, while men compete in a 12-team tournament. The two teams that go undefeated will play in the gold medal game for the chance to win the Olympic title. The gold medal game is played the same as a regular game. However, if there’s a tie, the sudden-victory overtime period is 20 minutes instead of five and includes another 15-minute intermission before it begins.

Speed Skating

Events: 18 (women’s and men’s; short track (8); long track (10))

Event Overview

Speed skating features short- and long-track skating with races at a variety of lengths with various rules. Short track events are skated on a 111-meter oval and feature 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 (women only) and 5,000 (men only) metered events. Long track events are skated on a 400-meter oval track and feature 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000, 3,000 (women only) and 10,000 (men only) metered events. 

There are also team pursuit and mass start events. In the team pursuit event, skaters start on opposite sides of a 400-meter oval and take turns racing around the track. In the mass start event, up to 24 athletes race on one track for 6,400 meters with intermittent sprints. 

Short Track vs. Long Track

The most evident difference between short and long track is the oval size (listed above). In short track, speed skaters compete in a pack style. Many refer to it as the “roller derby of the Winter Olympics” because of how rough tournaments can get! 

In long track, skaters race in their own lanes, creating a more organized playing field. There’s no pushing and shoving like what can happen in short track, so athletes can simply focus on being the fastest on the ice. 

Often, long track is referred to as speed skating, while short track is only referred to as short track. 

Read up on more rules, qualifications, Olympic history and more of all winter sport events appearing at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on NBC’s Olympic website here

Check out U.S. Figure Skating's Competition Central for all Team USA figure skating updates in Beijing. Click here to access the schedule, articles, athlete bios and more.