Winter Olympics: Figure Skating

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
2014 Winter Olympics

Artistry takes center stage

Adelina Sotnikova

2014 Winter Olympic Champion Adelina Sotnikova preforming on March 4, 2012
Photo Credit: David W. Carmichael

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Once a vital means of transportation throughout northern Europe, ice skating evolved into a sport during the 18th century. The man credited with giving birth to the type of figure skating we see today is Jackson Haines, an American from New York. In the early 1860s, Haines's new combination of music, ballet, ice skating, and dancing wasn't well received in this country. So he took his revolutionary ideas to Vienna, Austria, where they flourished.

Figure skating debuted at the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. The singles and pairs competitions have been a part of every Winter Games since 1924. The ice dancing competition was introduced in 1976.

The men's and women's singles competitions and the pairs competition each consist of two parts: a short program, in which skaters must complete required elements; and a free skate, which is a longer program that has few restrictions and emphasizes skaters' artistry. The ice dancing competition has three parts: a compulsory dance, an original dance, and a free skate.

Figure skating was in the spotlight in the 2002 Olympics when it was discovered that vote-swapping had pushed the Russian pair into first place above the near-flawless Canadian performance. The French judge was sent packing and in an Olympic first, the gold was awarded to both the Canadians and the Russians. In response to the events at the 2002 Olympics, figure skating judging and scoring have been overhauled. The old six-point system is gone, replaced by one in which the performance is awarded points for a technical score as well as five other elements: skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography, and interpretation. Also, no more booing of any particular judge—it's now anonymous, so the whole lot of them will have to get the raspberry.

Figure skating is notorious for injury. Less than two months before the games began, 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek announces that he will not be competing at Sochi due to a labrum tear in his left hip. Many top competitors are choosing not to participate in events leading up to the Olympics in order to be in top form for Sochi.

As of December 2013, the International Skating Union's world standings (based on points accumulated in international competition) showed the following women in the top four spots: Italy's Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada of Japan, Ashley Wagner of the United States and Japan's Akiko Suzuki. For the men, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, Canada's Patrick Chan, Daisuke Takahashi who is also from Japan, and Spain's Javier Fernandez filled the top spots.

Controversy surrounded the women's U.S. Olympic figure skating squad leading up to Sochi. At the U.S. championships in January 2014, Ashley Wagner fell twice during her free skate and dropped to fourth place. Usually, with only the top three going to the Olympics, Wagner would be out. However, a nine-member panel selected Wagner as one of the three going to the Winter Olympics based on her past performances.

Wagner will join Gracie Gold and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds on the team. Of the decision, Miriai Nagasu, the skater who came in third and who was bumped so Wagner could compete at Sochi, says, "I'm disappointed in the decision. Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made."

At the 2014 Sochi Games, the figure skating events will be held Feb. 6–20, with the exhibition gala taking place on Feb. 22. All skating will take place at the Iceberg Skating Palace; ice time will be shared with short track speed skating. The men's singles will be held Feb. 13 and 14, while the women's singles will be held Feb. 19 and 20.

The Sochi Games mark the first time a team figure skating event will be held. Because of this new event, the figure skating competition begins the day before the Opening ceremony. This is the first time in Winter Olympics history that a figure skating event occurs before the Opening ceremony.

At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White made history by winning the gold medal in ice dance. It was the first ice dance Olympic title for the United States.

Adelina Sotnikova made history by becoming the first woman to win gold in women's figure skating for Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics. A huge underdog, 17 year-old Sotnikova was not chosen to skate in the team event for Russia. With the focus on her popular teammate, 15 year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova skated under the radar. During her performances in Sochi, Sotnikova showed fire and grit in spite of the pressure that came with skating for the host country and beat her free skate personal best score by 18 points. To take gold on home ice, she defeated 2010 Winter Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim of South Korea who took silver and Italy's Carolina Kostner who won bronze. In the men's figure skating event, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu took gold, Canada's Patrick Chan won silver and Denis Tan from Kazakhstan brought home the bronze. It was the first time the U.S. did not medal in either men's or women's individual figure skating since 1936.

by John Gettings, Christine Frantz and Jennie Wood
More about the 2014 Winter Olympics

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