Let’s keep it pretty basic here. There are 6 competitive jumps and this is how they are ranked by difficulty in the rule book:
- Toe loop/toe (the easiest) (T) (<-- this is a jump abbreviation that the judges use)
- Salchow/sal (S)
- Loop (Lo)
- Flip (F)– sidenote on that: this is not a backflip! Backflips are banned in competitive skating
- Lutz (Lz)
- Axel (the hardest) (A)
- Honorary mention: Euler/half loop (Eu) – this is a half jump and it’s only considered a jump when it’s sandwiched between two other full jumps (for example triple axel-euler- triple salchow) - I’m only mentioning it because it’s pretty common in jump sequences
I’m not going to go into the differences between the jumps. However every jump, while starting with a different take off, land the same way (you always land backwards and if you’re right handed then you land on your right leg) (Here's Jason Brown explaining how it's done if you wanna check it out)
You can do a different number of rotations in the air. One rotation = single jump, two rotation = double, three is triple, four is quadruple or a quad jump. Axel is the holy exception here because it takes off forward and lands backwards, meaning you have to add an extra half rotation, so a single axel is 1.5 rotations etc. and a quad axel would be 4.5 rotations but nobody’s ever done that (although in my opinion, it’s just a matter of time really). That’s why the axel is considered the most difficult type of a jump.
In men’s figure skating, you have to have all your triples (including the triple axel) and if you want to win medals, you probably need at least one quad (you can win a medal without a quad but it’s very, very hard). Most of the top men in figure skating right now can do at least two different types of quads (most commonly quad toe loop and quad salchow), the best can do four different quads. Nobody has all the quads because like I said, nobody has ever succeeded at a quad axel yet. The quad lutz is the most difficult quad landed in competition so far.
And then you can put these jumps in combinations, so for example a popular combination is triple lutz triple toe. There is a required amount of jumps and combinations you have to do in a program and also you’re always required to do an axel in your program.
A combination counts as one jump or one jumping pass. Just if you’re ever watching figure skating and the commentator says “only one more jump to go” and then the skater does a combination (which is technically two jumps), it’s considered one jump.
Common mistakes on the jumps:
- under rotation – if you under-rotate more than a quarter of a rotation – it can result in a fall, but not always, you also get lower points for it aka the jump gets downgraded
- popping a jump – opening your air position so that instead of a quad or a triple, you do a single or a double – that’s the biggest mistake you can make on a jump, it’s worse than a fall
- falling – it can happen for a multitude of reasons and you get a one point deduction for it
- touching the ice – sometimes a skater will put their hand down on the ice to steady themselves – that is not considered a fall but it will bring down your GOE (more on GOE in the scoring section)
- step out – similar to touching the ice, the skater doesn’t have enough control on the landing so they don’t hold the landing position
- Yuzuru Hanyu’s quad axel attempts if anyone’s interested – not only can you see what a quad axel would look like, he also pops one jump at the beginning so you can see what that looks like
There are also non-competitive jumps like the split jump or waltz jump or butterfly, but those then fall under steps, not jumps.
There are 4 Olympic categories in figure skating:
- Ice dance (the main difference between pairs and ice dance is that ice dancers don’t do jumps and they have different rules for lifts) (ice dance is more like ballroom dancing on ice while pairs is more like putting two single skaters together)
And then there are three age divisions:
- Novice – up to 13 years old, they don’t compete under ISU (international skating union) (at least I think they don’t) (there are other divisions before Novice but idk them so let's pretend they don't exist)
- Junior – 13-18 years old I think but sometimes you see a junior who’s 20 so I think there are different age limits for different categories – they compete under ISU
- Seniors – 15 years and older – basically when you’re 15 you can choose to go to seniors or you can stay in juniors – seniors are the ones who can go to the Olympics but sometimes a junior older than 15 will go to a senior competition if they qualify: for example, Jun-Hwan Cha qualified for the Olympics at 16 (?), so he went even though he was still competing in juniors that season
The main competitive season lasts from September to late March (or August to early March if you’re a junior). You don’t necessarily qualify for every competition and sometimes you get injured mid-season and have to take a break, but if a skater qualifies for all the competitions they can qualify for, then that’s usually 6-8 competitions per season.
All major competitions are organized by the ISU (international skating union) which are also the guys who write the rules.
This thing is set in the 2020/21 season, so I’ll be using those dates and locations for the competitions and I’ve used past dates and locations for the competitions that happened in the past. There is no coronavirus in this fic, in real life, most of the competitions in this season got cancelled :(
The routine that the skaters do is called a program (or some people spell it programme, I don’t know why but the ISU spells it program so that’s how we’re gonna spell it) and they actually do two of them, the short program and the long/free program.
The usual competition schedule is: short program, free program, and gala exhibition. Not all competitions have a gala and not all skaters who compete get invited to the gala, you usually need to place high in the competition to be invited. Also, at least on bigger competitions, skaters almost always have a one day break between the short and the free program event.
The gala is the non-competitive part of the competition – the programs aren’t judged and you can use props or do banned elements (like the backflip) if you want. You’re basically given all the creative freedom you want, and at the end, there’s usually a big group routine with all the skaters, which is cute.
As for the programs, skaters generally get new programs every season, but it’s not against the rules to keep the same programs from last season or to switch a program mid-season (the only exception being ice dancers because they have a certain music genre assigned every season that they have to follow). Yuzuru Hanyu famously used his Ballade no.1 short program in four different seasons, but that’s a great program, so I’m not even mad.
Sometimes, skaters keep their old competition programs as a gala program.
And then during off season, they do ice shows; a few of the famous ones are Stars on Ice or Fantasy on ice or Art on ice or [anything] on ice. Ice shows are basically like a gala exhibition but there are a lot more group routines and they usually tour around the country (most commonly Japan, America or Canada) and do the same thing in different towns. A lot of the time, retired skaters still partake in the ice shows so it’s a chance for the fans to see their favourites who are no longer competing.
So, like I said, every skater performs two programs on every competition
Short program (SP)
- For men, it’s 2min 40s long (+/- 10s)
- 3 jumping passes are required – one axel type jump (on its own), one combination of two jumps and another jump on its own (so a SP layout would be for example quad toe, triple lutz-triple toe, triple axel)
- In the senior men, all jumps have to be either a quad or a triple, with the exception of the axel which can be a double or a triple (I don’t think the quad axel is allowed in the SP but I could be wrong) but if you do any double jump other than the axel, you automatically get 0 points on that jump
- You are not allowed to repeat any of the jumps more than once (unless it’s a quad toe-triple toe combination, this is allowed)
- You’re also required to have 3 spins and one step sequence
Long program/free program/free skate (FS) (it has many names)
- For men, it’s 4min long (+/- 10 s)
- 7 jumping passes are required – three combinations (one combination has to be a 3-jump combination aka a jump sequence and two combinations have to be 2-jump combinations) and you have to do at least one axel (it can be in combination or not) (an example of a FS layout: 4Lo, 4S, 3Lz, 4T, 4T+Eu+3F (jump sequence), 3A+3T, 3A+2T)
- There are rules for jump repetitions, but they’re honestly confusing, generally you’re allowed to repeat a jump twice but one of the times you have to put it in combination (you can put it in combination both times, look at the layout above 4T is on its own once and in combo once and 3A is in combo both times)
- There are no rules for how many rotations a jump must have – if you do a single or a double jump, you get the points for it but the issue is singles & doubles are worth very little points.
- Along with the jumps, skaters must do 3 spins, one step sequence and one choreographic sequence (which is basically a step sequence but shorter)
A general competition timeline - for all major and semi-major competitions, the competitions written here are held every season unless otherwise specified
- Junior Grand Prix series (JGP) - starts in late August, a series of 7 (?) competitions (one each week) for juniors only
- Challenger series - Starts in September, lasts till December, I honestly don’t know how this one works, but most elite skaters go to a Challenger competition as their start-of-the-season warmup competition
- Grand Prix series (GP) - starts in late October, consists of 6 competitions stretching across 6 weeks - skaters can go to maximum two GP competitions
- Grand Prix Final and Junior Grand Prix Final (GPF and JGPF) - early December - six best skaters from JGP and GP competitions go against each other in an ultimate battle (it’s like the 2nd book of Hunger Games)
- National championships - late December, early January, varies from country to country and your result at nationals determines whether you’ll be allowed to take place in the Championships in the 2nd part of the season (the 1st part of the season are the competition series, the 2nd is reserved the Championships)
- European Championships - late January (unless it’s an Olympic season in which case mid-January I think?)
- Four Continents Championships (4CC) - usually early February, but again, in an Olympic season the competition is moved to late January, so that athletes have time to rest and prepare for the Olys - 4CC is basically European Championships for non-Europeans
- Winter Olympics - mid/late February - held every four years, it consists of two sub-competitions; the team event (works the same way as WTT) and the individual event (every man for himself)
- Junior World Championships - early March - for juniors only
- World Championships - late March
- World Team Trophy (WTT) - early April - held every two years (but never on the same year as the Olys) - this competition is a team competition which means, instead of “every man for himself”, athletes compete as a national team and the scores from each category are all added together and the country with most points wins. This competition is also hardly serious at all and everyone just has fun with it. Sidenote: only the countries who have a full team can go to this competition (so they need at least one skater/pair in every category that meets the qualifications)
3. Judging and scores
This is a clusterfuck honestly, so here’s a simple explanation:
Your SP score + your FS score = your combined total score (CT) and then the skater with the highest combined total score wins.
So, if you’re hearing things like “first after the short program” that doesn’t necessarily mean first overall, it just means the skater had the highest score in the short program. Same goes for “first in the free skate/won in the free skate/whatever”. Even if you win the FS portion of the competition, there is still somebody who can have a higher SP score than you and they ultimately take you over in the combined total score. Just pointing that out because sometimes it can cause confusion.
Okay so that’s how you win, now how the programs are actually scored
Each program is scored in two categories: The technical element score (TES) and the presentation score, also known as the program component score (PCS). TES + PCS + deductions = program score (Here I've linked the pdf scoring sheet from one of the competitions because it makes the whole detailed scoring thing I'm about to get into easier to understand but this is all an optional read since I won't really go much into scoring details in the fic.)
TES and PCS are judged differently and it’s a bit of a headache really, so I’ll just describe the general gist of it
- All technical elements meaning jumps, spins and step sequences
- Every element has an assigned base value (BV) in the rulebook. It follows the difficulty and the number of rotations so a triple axel has a higher BV than a triple toe for example, because the axel is a harder type of jump, but a quad toe has a higher BV than the triple axel because it has more rotations
- Based on how well you do an element, the judges will give you a grade of execution (GOE) ranging between +5 and -5 – that GOE is then factored and added onto or removed from the base value of the element (so for example a triple axel has an 8.00 BV and let’s say you do it fairly well, it kinda ends up like this: 8.00BV + 2.40GOE (factored) = 10.40 points)
- There’s some more advanced shit going on with the factoring and 10% bonuses and so much math but let’s not get into that
- Also if you watched Yuri on ice you may be thinking “wait isn’t the GOE in the +/-3 range?” Well, it used to be but they changed the scoring system to +/-5 in the fall of 2018, so, yeah, if you watch YOI or the 2018 Olympics for example, the scoring there is still the +/-3 range
- This one is easier to understand – it is ranked from 0-10 but in a 9.00, 9.25, 9.50, 9.75 kind of way
- so no BV, no GOE, just 0-10, how good was that
- But what is the PCS, you ask? It’s basically the artistic score, but it’s divided into 5 categories which you don’t have to read but just in case you’re interested:
- Skating skills
- Interpretation of the music
- These categories have certain guidelines and checkpoints and whatnot and I’m not going to explain them but here are the ISU guidelines if anyone wants to check it out
- Even with the guidelines, the presentation score is often not 100% objective and there are a lot of issues with the judging (both with TES and PCS) in real life skating, but for the sake of literally everyone, we’ll keep the judging (mostly) fair and objective in this fic
- That one’s pretty simple: if you fall, you get a one point deduction
- There are also other reasons to get deductions: costume malfunctions, forbidden elements, inappropriate costumes, music being too long, taking more than 30s to get in your starting position etc. but those deductions are pretty rare
- So basically if you fall on a jump, you usually get a -5 GOE and then on top of it, a one point deduction from your overall score
- Despite all that, one fall isn’t necessarily the end of the world – there are times where a fall can be super, super costly, but sometimes you can have a fall or maybe even two and still win the competition (it really depends on what element you fall on and if it’s in SP or the FS)
- Popping a jump is worse than falling! While you don’t get a deduction for popping a jump (unless you pop and also fall), it will bring down your score by a huge amount. So let’s say you were planning on doing a triple axel (3A) but realized mid-air that you’re going to fall so you turn it into a single axel (1A) to avoid falling. Now if you did a 3A and fell, you’d earn still 4.00 points on the jump (that’s how much points you get for a 3A with the lowest possible GOE) and then have a one point deduction from your overall score, but if you did a 1A and landed it, you’d still be worse off because the highest score you can possibly get for a 1A is 1.65 points (that’s with max GOE) so in conclusion, if you fall on a triple it’s still worth more points than a perfectly executed single jump (and if you pop in the SP it’s automatically 0 points because single and double jumps aren’t allowed in the SP)
- You might be asking yourself why do popped jumps even happen then? Why not just fall if it’s still worth more points? Well, it’s because of safety, basically. Popped jumps mostly happen when the jump is completely wrong from the get go (so for example if they didn’t put enough force into the take-off or if their balance is off) because that would result in super painful, super dangerous falls and the athletes just don’t wanna risk it. Sometimes it can also be a mental thing like they get scared or think they can’t do it and end up just popping it instead.
Another thing to note is that everyone has their strong and weak points. Some skaters are better in the technical aspect, while others rely on their artistry to bring up their score. Younger skaters usually have lower artistic scores/PCS because artistry really is something you just need age and experience for.
SP – short program
FS – free skate
CT – combined total score
TES – technical element score
PCS – program component score
BV – base value [of an element]
GOE – grade of execution [of an element]
juniors – skaters between 13 and 18
seniors – skaters older than 15 (people between 15 and 18 can choose if they want to move on to the senior division or stay in the juniors)
Short program score + free skate score = combined total score
TES + PCS + deductions = the program score (SP or FS it doesn’t matter)
ISU – international skating union
Federation/the feds – it’s like the ISU but on a nation level only – they organize nationals and help financially support their top skaters (pay for coaching, competition fees, costumes, skates, accommodation if you train abroad, healthcare, it really depends from country to country on how much financial support they give you but figure skating is expensive )
UR – under rotation
combination – two or three jumps performed in succession
popping a jump – a quad or a triple jump turning into a double or a single
layout/planned program content – what elements will be in your program, layout usually refers to just the jumps while planned program content includes the spins and the step sequences as well